The subject of mental health has entered mainstream conversation, no longer treated as a hushed-up taboo. The world better understands of the concept of mental health and the breadth of the spectrum it covers. While it seems many occupations and industries have begun to accept a more understanding stance, it remains a topic that video games have long embraced and woven into storytelling in varying degrees of deftness.
Here, find examples of video games that have tackled the subject of mental health in varying ways.
1. Lost Words: Beyond the Page
Lost Words: Beyond the Page deals with the mental anguish of losing a loved one. The character chronicles her grandmother's ailing health and eventual passing through a diary. Players control certain aspects of the story, selecting words and building sentences to tell the tale. This clever approach gently handles a serious mental health strain that everybody faces at some point in their lives.
With a tender story, it leaves behind an impression that is hard to shake. Lost Words: Beyond the Page leaves players thinking for a long time after the credits have rolled.
Celeste took the world by storm upon release and earned praise for its gameplay, story, and how it made depression not just a part of the game but its core essence. The game's story presents a metaphor for conquering anxiety and depression, beautifully woven into a story lacking finesse and subtlety. This level of boldness makes the game such a powerful title in mental health awareness.
While climbing the mountain, players face instances that teach coping mechanisms and strategies for success when faced with relatable problems in real life.
3. Blackwood Crossing
Blackwood Crossing brings tears to the eyes with the strength of its story and the way it unfolds. The story touches on the stages of grief and tells the tale of a brother and sister learning to adjust to life without their parents. The gameplay consists of little more than a walking simulator with a few basic puzzles. However, the game is, in many ways, secondary to the message. The story unfolds in such a way that gamers see it coming but cannot prepare for the ending.
Blackwood Crossing tackles a complicated and sensitive subject and does so with a delicate touch that never feels cheap or insulting to those struggling.
GRIS took a hands-on and head-first approach to raising mental health awareness through video gaming. The story unfolds, as do a lot of mental health-focused games on this list, without much guidance. It features no dialogue, and other than a short tutorial, players get nothing in the way of direction or instruction. Yet, they never feel lost or confused when playing. As a game, GRIS taps into human consciousness and delivers a stunning portrayal of a girl fighting to reclaim her mind and rebalance her mental health.
Nothing short of a gaming masterpiece, GRIS features five color-coded characters and deals with a specific aspect of mental health. Overcoming the level sees the character conquer that element and continue their self-improvement journey. Additionally, each level brings more vibrancy and movement into GRIS' world, representing her strong march towards victory.
5. Life Is Strange: Before the Storm
Unlike the first episode of the Life is Strange series, Before the Storm dropped the sci-fi elements and kept everything looking forward, moving away from an unchangeable event in the past. Chloe, the protagonist, must deal with issues such as grief and loneliness. Players must make the choices that either see Chloe rise to the challenge and emerge on the other side or amplify her woe and internal struggles.
The developers deliberately decided to change direction with Before the Storm and challenge what was a great taboo in gaming back then. While gamers have done much in recent years to raise awareness, Before the Storm continues to stand tall as a champion for mental well-being awareness.
Rime raises awareness of what it is like to struggle with mental health and delivers a message that says it's okay. People can feel a certain way but not let it define who they are.
Rime has no dialogue and no explanation. Gamers take on the role of a young child washed up on a beach, left to solve the puzzles and slowly climb their way back through their grief, processing death and loss, moving from stage to stage until the ending's emotional climax. Players soon realize what a heavy tale it tells.
Designers based Rime on an actual near-death experience, the resulting repressed memories, and years of unknown suffering that ultimately came to a head. Everything in the game is beautifully crafted in sorrow and has a firm and definite purpose in moving the silent narrative along.
Omori retells the creators' battle against anxiety and depression. Omori didn't begin life as a video game but as a webcomic.
The story in Omori is a little darker than others on this list, but that only heightens its importance. Mental health awareness has more efficacy when presented in a cute package and with a beautiful message.
The story slowly unfolds about grief and overcoming, acceptance, admitting faults, and, ultimately, guilt when it is due. Omori offers several different endings impacted by the player's decisions and willingness to accept the truth about what happened. A challenging game, Omori leaves a lasting impression.
8. Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is unlike any other games on this list, featuring a dark and violent tale with an ending that players cannot conquer. While grief and acceptance play a large part, psychosis forms the core mental health element of the game. At its core, Hellblade weaves a tale of overcoming childhood abuse and forgiving yourself for something that was beyond your control at the time.
The game will not calm players or breathe gentle life into their mental health journey. This savage and brutal experience set in a unique landscape and period delivers its message with a strange mix of subtle and brute force that somehow work together.
9. Depression Quest
Depression Quest, released in 2013, offers text-based gameplay. Designers built Depression Quest to give people an idea of what it is like to live with depression. The game offers players multiple answers to situations; however, players cannot always select certain answers. This design teaches people about depression and how it inhibits thoughts and responses; even when they know the right choice, players cannot make themselves take it.
Unlike other games on this list, Depression Quest, as the name suggests, is not a game to be enjoyed or even played in such terms, but rather, it is to be learned from. Those who play it must brace themselves for a sobering and thought-provoking experience.
Florence started out explicitly on mobile devices. It tells a simple story of a relationship gone wrong and the quest to find oneself again. The protagonist is a young girl with aspirations of being an artist. Through a series of short puzzles designed for the mobile audience, the story of self (re)discovery begins.
Florence's message highlights a crucial aspect of mental health—the importance of self-love and identity management. A short game lasting around 30-45 minutes reminds players of this essential skill.
Spiritfarer deals with death and loss. Only through helping others cross over and deal with the wash of their emotions does the player, become ready to say goodbyes and cross into the spirit world.
Spiritfarer's story delivers a powerful and important message that uses mental health as a story driver and teaches players about life. The management sim sees players managing a boat ferrying the souls to the afterlife. Spiritfarer teaches that there is no right way to grieve.
12. Neverending Nightmares
Neverending Nightmares tackles two aspects of mental health often misunderstood and brushed aside by those who don't understand them. Developer Matt Gilgenbach created Neverending Nightmares, a survival horror game, using his own battles with depression and OCD as a guiding tool to spread awareness and understanding.
13. Night in the Woods
So many video games task players with uncovering secrets. Night in the Woods uses this to tell the tale of a young girl coming home from university and trying to deal with her depression and dissociative disorder. Mae, the protagonist, has dropped out due to her struggle with her mental health. The story handles a sensitive subject in an authentic way. It doesn't promise recovery or an innate ability to beat mental illness by willing it to be so.
As with many games, the development team has first-hand experiences of mental health struggles, translating into an engaging game with a powerful message.
14. Sea of Solitude
Sea of Solitude deals with loneliness, an often overlooked mental health component. The story is an allegory, with everybody in the protagonist's world turned into monsters, scaring her away to the point that even she no longer recognizes herself and has started to turn.
The presence of water and the threat of drowning further symbolizes isolation and struggling to stay afloat when personal demons try to drag the character down. The story shows gamers that while things may seem scary, there is always a way out.
15. Psychonauts 2
The Psychonauts series is all about diving into people's minds. However, with Psychonauts 2, designers made a specific effort to focus on mental health awareness with a delicate and sensitive touch.
Psychonauts 2 tackles issues such as addiction, depression, isolative panic attacks, psychosis, and split personality disorder. Enemies include doubts, regret, and panic attacks, all dealt with in different but relatable ways.
16. Disco Elysium
Disco Elysium uses the protagonist's mental health as a secondary driver to the main story. Solving a crime provides the core element of gameplay. However, player choices impact what they discover about a character's past and which of the endings they achieve.
The hidden power of Disco Elysium lies in its relatability. The story is based on reactions, with the most minor interactions having a lasting impact.
17. Fractured Minds
Fractured Minds hits with a high impact and pulls no punches. A short game, it requires linear regarding movement within each level. It places players deep inside the mind of an unknown character, inspired by the real-world anxieties and experiences of its 17-year-old developer.
Fractured Minds explores the darkness and reality-blurring nature of mental health and delivers a moving experience that sheds a powerful light on what it is like to struggle.
18. Martha Is Dead
Martha is Dead looks at the lasting damage that arises from childhood abuse. Players have proposed several theories about what the ending of Matha is Dead means. However, each of them points back to the same horrendous beginning. Parental abuse impacts a child's psyche and development, whether it is anger issues and rage or the formation of dissociative disorders in an attempt to block out the misery.
Martha is Dead tells a heavy story that lingers long after the credits roll.
19. Actual Sunlight
Actual Sunlight first hit consoles in 2013. Players take on the role of Evan Winters, a man suffering from crippling depression and suicidal thoughts. The game has an eerie realism, dealing with common themes, including the drudgery of daily life and being trapped in the 9-5 work cycle.
The game builds to an ambiguous ending, although it points more towards a harrowing resolution than anything else. This only serves to highlight the importance of mental health awareness.
20. Little Nightmares
Little Nightmares offers little explanation but represents an allegory for life as an orphan. Feelings of alienation, the prevalence of abuse, and even the troubling relationships between older and younger children fighting to survive as unscathed as possible make Little Nightmares a harrowing game to experience.