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“Project: Mara will be a real-world and grounded representation of mental terror,” apparently. That doesn’t sound concerning at all.

Ninja Theory, which is now an Xbox Game Studios shop, announced Hellblade II: Senua’s Saga for Xbox Series X. Given that the first Hellblade game was perhaps best viewed as a demonstration for the studio’s performance capture chops – and Melina Juergens’ striking portrayal of psychosis – it makes sense that its sequel will be used as something of a tech showcase for the next-gen Xbox console.

Ninja Theory has not been resting idle, however. In addition to Hellblade II, they’re also working on Bleeding Edge (a multiplayer character brawler) and something called The Insight Project, described as “an ambitious combination of technology, game design and clinical neuroscience brought together with the aim of generating strategies to alleviate mental distress,” developed in conjunction with Professor Paul Fletcher of University of Cambridge.

Today, Ninja Theory has announced another project. It’s called Project: Mara, and somewhat predictably, it focuses on mental health. For better or worse.

Including what appears to be Melina Juergens in the lead role, similarities to Hellblade’s (albeit more fantastical) portrayal of mental health look obvious. According to the blurb on the Ninja Theory website, “Project: Mara will be a real-world and grounded representation of mental terror.”

“Based on real lived experience accounts and in-depth research,” the description continues, “our aim is to recreate the horrors of the mind as accurately and realistically as possible. Project: Mara will be an experimental title and a showcase of what could become a new storytelling medium.”

This has, understandably, raised a few eyebrows. It’s great that Ninja Theory is making experimental games! It’s also a positive step that video games are looking to cover wider societal issues like mental health. But the focus on the negative is concerning. Why must they assume that mental health issues must manifest as “horrors of the mind” and “mental terror”?

It brings to mind Life is Strange developer Dontnod’s upcoming game, Tell Me Why, a game that features a trans protagonist but (to our knowledge, at the time the game was announced) no transgender writers on the team. Dontnod has been keen to point out that it is working with LGBT advocacy group GLAAD, but research and good intentions are no substitute for experience and empathy. Ninja Theory’s talk of “real lived experience accounts and in-depth research” sounds desperately similar.

The worry is that these portrayals have the potential to do more harm than good. As a result, the jury’s out on this one.

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