Microsoft and Ninja Theory are making games to fight mental illness

The Insight Project will study the use of gaming, technology and neuroscience.

In 2015, Ninja Theory released Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, a journey through the mind of the Celtic warrior Senua as she faced anxiety, depression, hallucinations and delusions. The Microsoft-owned studio took careful steps to respect people suffering from those conditions, and it worked with Paul Fletcher, a professor at the University of Cambridge, to accurately portray mental illness. Beyond the award recognition, Ninja Theory and Fletcher were encouraged to keep going with their work around mental health. Today, they announced their next endeavor: The Insight Project.

Fletcher and Taneem Antoniades, co-founder and Creative Director at Ninja Theory, plan to study how game design, technology and neuroscience can come together to benefit those with mental illness.

Their work will take place over the course of years. At the moment, the team is testing how you can use biometric data to control gaming simulations with the mind and body. The Insight Project plans to conduct formal experiments and share the results with the scientific community. Ultimately, the goal is to help gamers recognize, respond to and control their own fear, anxiety and emotional suffering.

This isn't the first time a gaming studio has attempted to tackle mental health, and as we've seen first hand, there have been mixed results. But it's critical that we address mental health in the gaming community (and beyond). While gaming is sometimes blamed for problems like addiction, we've also seen that it can help users who are depressed or isolated connect and socialize. Given their track record, Antoniades and Fletcher could make a significant impact.