Object Recognition in a Character with Psychosis

Really Clever Introduction Title

A broad-shouldered woman walks strongly into a cave mouth, and then descends down a lip of moderate height. The voices in her head tell her it was a bad idea, and now there’s no going back.  The dimly lit cave continues, and curves ahead of her without any remarkable features, other than a small shaft of light descending from the ceiling. As she rounds the corner, she sees a large iron door barring her path, the door in question has a strange glowing red symbol, frantically hovering in front of it, resembling the letter “M”. While staring at the glyph, the voices in her head intensifies, telling her that to open the door, she’ll have to find the “rune”, and that these “runes” are the keys to unlocking the path. As she turns to examine the previous area, and in the shaft of light, there lies a shadow in the form of the very same “M” on the door. She briefly examines the shadow, and upon noticing the same iconography, she faces the door again, the red symbols have now turned blue, hover more slowly, and move in a more uniform pattern. As our steadfast heroin approaches the door, it opens with a strong push.


Our unharrowable heroine here is “Senua”, from a game called “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.” Attending to the rather unseemly section heading, Senua’s character is depicted with psychosis. On the offset, it seems to be a very aggressive form that manifests in Senua hearing voices in her head, the player is introduced as one of these voices, by the apparent chief voice. You control the character through her adventure, a late 8th century Scottish Celtic warrior who has traveled to “Hel” to commune with the Norse God of the Dead to return the soul of her lost lover, simple right? To complicate matters more, the game somewhat implies that all of this might just be a mental simulation, with all the physical things happening, but all of what she’s seeing is actually quite different. Let’s go back to the introduction, if we are under the belief that all of this is a hallucination, is the intro an example of Top Down, or Bottom Up processing? Go ahead, take your time, I’ve got all the time in the world.

If You’re Upside Down, is it still Top Down, and Bottom Up?

In my opinion, it would be bottom up for Senua’s character, as well as for her psychosis. For her, she will have already seen, directly or indirectly the shadow on the wall, her eyes would have noticed it, catalogued it in her mind, afterwards she would have seen the image on the door, and turned to find it after already “seeing” it. If we continue the narrative that all of this is partially in her head, then her mind might have noticed the shadow in the real world and created the glowing glyph in the hallucination for her, to make her perception of being in a magical Norse realm make sense, and to prolong Senua in her bizarre adventure. As for the player however, personally I’m going to say that it’s in favor of Top Down. The player isn’t going to notice every shadow, but seeing as how it’s so early in the game, a very deliberately placed shadow on the wall isn’t going to go unnoticed, and by being connected to light, most players are already probably assuming that it will at least be part of gameplay somehow. So, before the game even tells you it’s part of the puzzle around the corner, most have probably figured it out before rounding said corner.

Ocognize Rebjection?

There are two primary gameplay themes in Senua, Combat and Puzzles. Ironically, not much is said about the game’s overall antagonists, “The Northmen”, other than what is easily ascertained as them being “The Norsemen”, referencing the Norse invasion of the Celts. However, even though not much is directly said about them, by using the principles of object recognition, and the fact that Senua has a very severe case of psychosis, we have a somewhat better theoretical understanding of why her mind is causing such a dissonance with her vision, and with her reality.  From the start, her object recognition is already slightly askew, she was told of the Norseman, before ever actually seeing them, and described the awful things that they did to the Celtic people. Afterwards, after she traveled home, she found the body of her husband in the aftermath of a gruesome scene, a torturous ritual employed by the Norsemen. To her already damaged mental state she believes them to be monsters, and upon first seeing them, all her suspicions and assumptions became reality. She recognized them based off what she was told previously, the color of their skin, and their hunched muscular figure. She groups them in her mind very easily, since they walk in groups, and humanoids are remarkably similar in overall appearance. They’ve been described on multiple occasions to her, and since they already have a meaning that’s understood by her, she recognizes the Norsemen immediately. For her, they’ve already been described as monsters, and after they killed her husband, all it took was a first glance for her to see them as demons in her mind.