Senua, a Celtic warrior, is leading me on a journey into hell. A couple of months ago I started playing the video game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, about a deeply traumatized young woman who sees illusions and hears voices. She journeys into hell in order to save the soul of her lover Dillion.
The game has received much praise as a piece of art that raises attention to mental illness in a very nuanced way. Created in collaboration with neuroscientists and people who experience psychosis, it is deeply moving, and very beautiful because of that depth. But it is also very dark with lots of violence and confusion and terror. I can only play it for 45 minutes, then I really must stop and go for a walk to let my thoughts settle again.
Last Thursday I solved a puzzle in the game that really made me think. Not that the puzzles in the game are particularly difficult, but they convey a meaning. This particular puzzle dealt with shifting perspectives. We (Senua and I) were in a house, destroyed by war, that looked very grim and abandoned. But there were masks, and if we looked through such a mask everything changed, and the house looked bright and whole, presumably how Senua remembered it from the past. If we looked through the mask again, the scene reversed to dark and grim. In order to solve the puzzle, I had to shift perspectives repeatedly in order to use items from both the dark and the light way of seeing.
During this puzzle, Senua also remembered conversations she had had with Dillion, her lover. In one of those conversations, he said to her: “What if your darkness is the price you pay for your gift?” He remarked this, because Senua was haunted by the thought that she must confront and fight the darkness within her, get rid of it, but he loved her completely and tried to show her another way of viewing herself. The depth and tenderness conveyed in such scenes make this game so beautiful.
That puzzle for which I needed both the light and the dark way of seeing things, plus Dillion’s remark that the darkness might be part of a gift, opened up something for me. I’m not traumatized like Senua, but I can relate to the frantic attitude to see things in black and white, the fervent wish to fight the darkness. I remember especially one day when I also sought to confront my inner darkness, and, not daring to go alone, asked Jesus for help. I’ve described this experience, and the resulting poem in The face of anger. Now, looking back at this day, I realize more clearly how I found something profoundly beautiful in that black pit. (You’ll need to follow the link and read my poem plus explanation to understand this otherwise cryptic remark). Senua’s journey helped me place that experience in context: we might just need the dark parts too.
I haven’t yet finished this video game, and I wonder where Senua will lead me, but I will hold on to this beautiful attitude of embracing and integrating all the viewpoints.