When people are too lonely, they become monsters… in Sea of Solitude, which is part of the EA Originals program, you accompany a young, lonely woman on her very personal journey across the Sea of Loneliness, a beautiful world where nothing is as it seems. When Sea of Solitude launched on Xbox One and Windows 10 PC this past July, Designer and CEO of Jo-Mei Games Cornelia Geppert provided us some insights into the world and development process of the game and its connection between gaming and mental health, and why the game is an absolute must-play on Xbox One.
An Emotional Journey
Kay, your playable character, meets a multitude of beautiful and frightening monsters on her adventurous journey and each one of them tells the story of their own loneliness. As Kay confronts these scary figures, she learns more about herself and about them. Sea of Solitude shows how people experience different kinds of loneliness and how outsiders, family, and friends deal with it.
The game’s development was adventurous and in part highly personal journey for its German development studio, Jo-Mei Games. “The entire studio of 12 people constantly contributed to the story, but also their friends and family. We talked about each topic and everybody shared some parts of their own life experience. All these personal stories had an impact on the Sea of Solitude script,” recalls Cornelia Geppert.
An Emotionally Moving Topic
The versatility of Sea of Solitude‘s monsters reflects the forms of loneliness, depression, and also deeply personal experiences. Such issues are often polarizing, but in this case, positive feedback prevailed. “When we talk about something so many people can identify with, we always have a wide range of feedback. But what we remember the most are the literally thousands of messages from fans who were deeply moved by the game. […] In between we had to cry over the fan reactions, because that’s all we ever hoped for and more,” says Geppert.
How Gaming Can Support the Psyche
Cornelia Geppert sees a change in the gaming industry that favors the development of titles with more serious content such as Sea of Solitude: “Recently, there has been a real trend in our community to address mental health or more serious and adult topics in general. These games are very welcome in the gaming community. I very much welcome this development because it feels to me like gaming industry is growing up.”
In fact, even addressing mental illness helps those affected. Some fans of Sea of Solitude mention that their perception of life has changed in a positive direction and that they now have ideas on how to overcome some of their struggles. Other fans are simply deeply grateful for not longer feeling so alone with their struggles after seeing the problem being addressed out loud – this message was particularly important to the creators. Sea of Solitude shows those who are affected that they are not alone with their nightmares.
Serious topics such as physical and psychological illnesses in games give those affected – as well as outsiders – a casual but emotional insight, but also provide a more complex and thus more exciting gaming experience. Sea of Solitude is not a standalone case here.
In Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (which you can play with Xbox Game Pass), for example, the main character suffers from psychosis. Like some people with this disease, Senua hears voices that don’t exist. She sees things that aren’t real. This makes it impossible for the player to distinguish between reality and delusion of the game. These inner conflicts have been so carefully researched and implemented by the developers that they seem much more fearsome than the real creatures of hell Senua faces on her journey.
Experiencing these games is rarely about simply solving a problem or eliminating a threat. The player gets an impression of the state of mind of affected people, which can certainly be unpleasant. This experience not only gives depth to the game experience, but also gives an impression of the clinical picture that can hardly be achieved by other means.
Sea of Solitude focuses on the added value of the game. “In Sea of Solitude, we don’t have a purely positive end in which life is perfect. Life is always full of ups and downs – for all of us. Sea of Solitude is about balancing what life throws at you and being a little more satisfied with yourself in the end.”
Microsoft and Xbox also care about mental health. We believe that gaming should be safe, inclusive and accessible for all. Everyone has the right to play games, express their opinions and share them without fear of violence or harassment. Xbox is constantly developing new features, such as our robust Family Settings, that lead to a safe and welcoming environment on Xbox One and Windows 10 PC for the gaming community.”\
Sea of Solitude – An Indie Success Story
With its unusual concept, Jo-Mei Games secured government funding from the Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg and represents the increasing success of indie studios in Germany. Cornelia Geppert is optimistic that more indie titles from Germany will make the leap. “Our indie scene is flourishing and the government is making efforts to support us financially. So I am confident that we will see more German indie gaming hits worldwide in the coming years!”
Creative stories with depth, like those of Sea of Solitude, are a proven strength of indie studios and enrich the diversity of the gaming landscape. EA Originals – EA’s indie support program – has also recognized this and supports Jo-Mei Games in their project.
Xbox also supports the diverse indie scene with ID@Xbox and supports independent studios worldwide. The program enables qualified game developers of any size to develop their creativity by publishing digital games on Xbox One and Windows 10 PC with Xbox Live themselves. Studios are provided with essential tools get supported in their need for a successful game launch.