Matt Gilgenbach draws on his struggle with mental illness to create something unique
Hello, PlayStation fans! We’re pleased to announce that our psychological horror game Neverending Nightmares will hit PlayStation Store for PS4 and PS Vita (with Cross Buy support) on 4th May. To reward the most loyal PlayStation gamers, we’re offering a 20% off discount to PlayStation Plus members for the first two weeks after launch.
Neverending Nightmares is a psychological horror game that draws on my struggles and experiences of dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. Through eliciting feelings of darkness and despair and drawing on strong metaphorical undertones, I’m seeking to express my feelings of struggling with mental illness through the game.
You play as Thomas, who wakes up from a terrible, violent nightmare only to discover that he is still in an inception-style nightmare. Throughout the game Thomas has to continue to explore horrifying nightmares filled with his darkest demons and fears only to finally wake up in reality.
While the story isn’t autobiographical, the feelings in the game very much are. Everything in the game was designed to recreate the feelings and thoughts I experienced at my darkest point in my mental health struggles. We are expressing this through all elements of the game including the game’s story, the environments, art style, and soundscapes.
The stylized impressionistic black and white art style influenced by Edward Gorey creates a bleak, dark, dramatic atmosphere and emphasizes the feelings of hopelessness. We used animated pen shading lines constantly animating towards you, designed to make you feel as if the world is closing in — a feeling often associated with mental illness. The haunting dark ambient score amplifies the tension as you explore progressively worse nightmare-scapes as the game progresses.
In the game, Thomas is completely defenceless and unable to find a solution or a way out. He has asthma, so when trying to evade the hellish apparitions, he can’t flee for very long without having to catch his breath, giving the monsters time to catch up. In most games, there’s a huge emphasis on feeling empowered or defeating something, but when I was dealing with the worst of my mental illness, I felt completely powerless, which is something we seek to convey and explore in the game.
When you reach the end of the game, you “wake up” into reality. Featuring a branching narrative, there are three completely different realities you can wake up into that redefine the character relationships and the meanings of the nightmares you have throughout the game. The endings are contradictory and are designed to still feel like an extension of the dreamlike state where the entire game takes place.
People often ask me which is the “good” ending. I would argue that none are. Neverending Nightmares doesn’t have an emphasis on winning or losing. This is not a game you can win, just like you can’t “beat” mental illness. It’s an ongoing struggle, and I wanted the game to represent that.
Unlike horror games designed to create fear through jump scares, Neverending Nightmares is meant to have a creepy unnerving atmosphere and disturbing events that get under your skin and haunt you long after you finish the game. Part of the reason that I was able to make it so disturbing was that because of OCD, I struggle with intrusive thoughts of violent self-harm. They are horrible images that are sick, wrong, and incredibly hard to shake. I worked with the team to translate these images into the game, and they are absolutely horrifying nightmare fuel.
One of our goals in making the game was to connect with others suffering from mental illness and help them realise that they’re not alone. The feeling of mental illness is often one of isolation and fear. We wanted to create a game to resonate with people who also suffer and give them an outlet for self-expression as well.
Neverending Nightmares is an extremely personal and uncompromising game. It definitely isn’t the type of game that you’d see a big company making, but even when I first started working on it, the people at PlayStation rallied behind the idea and worked to bring it to PS4 and PS Vita.
I’m so happy that it will finally be released on 4th May, so you can play it and share in these experiences with me. I have to thank everyone at Sony Interactive Entertainment who helped me bring my nightmares to you.