Fractured Minds is the winning entry of the 2017 BAFTA Young Game Designers Award and was designed by Emily Mitchell. It now lands on Xbox One and other platforms thanks to the publisher, Wired Productions, and in affiliation with the charity Safe In Our World, which is a mental health support and awareness program looking to use video games as a platform for outreach. For the cost of a cup of coffee, this is an important and valuable independent release, and perhaps a way forward for the industry to effectively utilise video games in a manner which they have always been sought for: healthy escapism as a coping mechanism.
We all have different reasons behind our indulgence with video games, and we all relate to the medium and certain games in a very specific manner. Most can probably relate to the comfort video games provide in allowing us to escape our circumstances, and at times even escaping our own selves. Fractured Minds is what it is, a sincere and honest independent effort which was submitted as an entry for a prestigious award to celebrate young and aspiring game developers. The asking price is modest, and even then 80% of the proceeds go towards a good cause. The game is promoted and sold just as it is, with a few neat touches such as artist support for the soundtrack. But the publisher is certainly not promising any more than its premise and humble origins, and the asking price is reflective of the experience you get.
As a video game, Fractured Minds is a first-person exploration game featuring puzzles and interactive environments. The graphics, control and interface are simple and clean, with the sombre and calming music suiting the ambience of each chapter. There are six short chapters and the entire game can be completed in just under ten minutes, but this is not a criticism at all. This is very much a personal and reflective experience from developer Emily Mitchell, and this is also a first effort from a young adult who created this game in her own time.
Each of the six levels feature one specific objective, and this usually involves searching for an item like a key, where in some instances there are light puzzles to solve and switches to press in order to activate certain things. Each level lasts mere moments, but it’s really more about paying attention to the cues and the symbolism apparent within the level design as they relate to mental health. The first-person controls are simple and functional, and as the game design isn’t very demanding the basic gameplay mechanics serve their purpose in helping players navigate intimate environments and solve basic puzzles.
What Fractured Minds does so well is capture the profound feeling of anxiety, and all its associated feelings, using very simple yet meaningful level design. Early on, the simple task of locating the correct key is compounded with visual cues of anxiety every time an incorrect key is picked up. And while each level objective is very apparent and straightforward, the visual presentation and pacing of the objective fits nicely with the game’s narrative of conveying complicated emotional experiences in a simple yet relatable manner.
In essence, what we have here is a very personal and reflective insight into the experience of living with anxiety, and even with simple graphics the visuals and art are rife with abstract existential symbolism. Although this is very much a personal reflection of the developer, it’s presented in a way that anyone who struggles with similar issues can relate to. The subject matter is presented in a manner that is both confronting and comforting, with each chapter exploring and depicting a certain experience which individuals struggling with mental health may face in their daily life.
Fractured Minds on Xbox One is a brave and admirable attempt at using video games in an effort to reach out to people who have to struggle silently with mental health. Although it is primarily a personal reflection of the developer, the presentation of abstract and complicated feelings associated with anxiety, using visual cues and simple level design, is done very well and in a manner which others can relate to. Video games have always been about escapism and sought after as a coping mechanism, and with the release of Fractured Minds it’s great to see the medium being utilised in a way that is both healthy and accommodating.