Framing Mental Health Within Digital Games: An Exploratory Case Study of Hellblade

Joseph Fordham, Christopher Ball

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Researchers and therapists have increasingly turned to digital games for new forms of treatments and interventions for people suffering from a variety of mental health issues. Yet, the depiction of mental illness within digital games typically promotes stigmatized versions of those with mental health concerns. Recently, more games have attempted to implement more realistic and respectful depictions of mental health conditions. Objective: This paper presents an exploratory analysis of a contemporary game that has the potential to change the way researchers, practitioners, and game designers approach topics of mental health within the context of gaming. Methods: A case study of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice was conducted using frame analysis to show how key design choices for this game present the potential for new ways of approaching games and mental health. Results: A case study of Hellblade's development shows how research-informed collaborative design with mental health practitioners, scientists, and individuals with mental health problems can lead to a realistic depiction of mental illness in games. Furthermore, the use of frame analysis demonstrates how to harness narrative, mechanics, and technology to create embodied experiences of mental health, which has the potential to promote empathetic understanding. Conclusions: This paper highlights an exemplary case of collaborative commercial game design for entertainment purposes in relation to mental health. Understanding the success of Hellblade's depiction of psychosis can improve serious games research and design. Further research must continue to provide deeper analysis of not only games that depict mental illness, but also the design process behind them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12432
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Electronic gaming
  • Psychosis
  • Stigma
  • Video games

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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