E3 2018: ‘Sea of Solitude’ and Mental Health in Video Games

One of the most striking reveals at the EA Play 2018 conference was the game Sea of Solitude. As the newest EA Original (EA’s independent games initiative) it joins Fe from Zoink! Games and A Way Out from Hazelight Studios.

This new game from small developer Jo-Mei Games was shown off by it’s creative director Cornelia Geppert. In Sea of Solitude, players will control Kay, a young woman who that is suffering from the “loneliness of isolation.”

In the world of SoS, humans who are consumed by loneliness turn into monsters. Kay is one of these people who has had these negative, dark feelings consume her and has succumbed to monsterhood.

Throughout the adventure, players will see Kay as she turns to face these feelings and tries to turn herself back into a human. She does this not by turning and embracing 100% happiness, but by learning what brought her to this point and embracing these feelings.

SoS is born from very real human emotions. The loneliness that is described by Geppert is a very close analogue of depression. With a careful hand, SoS can grapple with these complex feelings that millions of people suffer through. Mental health is something that games have tried to wrestle with in the past.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice from Ninja Theory showed its main character, Senua, caught in the throes of a deep psychosis where she hears voices in her head. Some good and many bad that try to confuse both Senua and the player. Along with these voices she often hallucinates and it’s often difficult to parse real from not. Treated with a deft hand, and not just put into a game as an arbitrary plot device, games are a great vehicle for exploring these issues.

hellblade

Hellblade was able to give players the sense of hearing voices through its use of audio technology. SoS will be less direct, however the imagery is clear. The metaphor of depression turning you into a monster is front and center. The world takes shape around Kay as she works through what brought her to this point.

During the game, Kay will sail through an abandoned city that’s been flooded. Players will be sailing for the majority of the quest, but trailers have shown many of foot sections. Both the insides of these buildings as well as the outsides were on display.

As Kay sails her tiny boat around the abandoned storefronts and alleyways, the world changes around her. The weather will bring horrible rain and storms, or clear up to be bright and sunny.

SoS 2

Kay, like many other people suffering from depression, isn’t a one note character. That sunny yet lonely facade breaking to storms and monsters shows how the medium can depict what it’s like living with depression.

One of the themes towards helping Kay overcome her depression is balance. Geppert described on stage about how bringing the light and darkness into balance is the path to helping Kay. It shows a real understanding of depression on the creators part. Many lives have been lost because of the happy face put on by those suffering through this mental illness.

The real question remaining is whether or not SoS can stick the landing. In good hands and if executed well, the themes SoS are looking to address can make a very important statement. If mishandled, it can prove clumsy and have a tone deaf view on mental health.

SoS 3

Geppert told audiences that this game idea came from when she herself felt the loneliness and isolation, and how she coped. Drawing upon her very real experiences with mental health should give the narrative a personal touch. Her sincerity and willingness to open up on stage in front of thousands in house and watching at home is reassuring.
Sea of Solitude is set to release early 2019 and will launch on Microsoft Xbox One, Sony Playstation 4 and PC.

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