"A lot of games celebrate the heroic ideal and these aspirational qualities of being immutable and untouchable" said Chris Bourassa, Red Hook Studios co-founder and creative director of Darkest Dungeon.
"But I feel like we pushed that envelope pretty far, and maybe there's some interesting game play to be found on the other end of the spectrum."
In most video games, characters can be hurt or killed, but they rarely have any psychological damage as a result of all the death and destruction that surrounds them.
Darkest Dungeon has a classic setup: a band of heroes questing through dungeons and fighting villains. But the things they see and do affect them psychologically — sometimes with unpredictable results.
"When they hit their maximum threshold, they're kind of tested and they can develop what we call an affliction or a stress response," said Bourassa.
Characters can become paranoid, masochistic, and irrational and act differently as a result. They can relieve stress by going to church, a tavern, or by gambling and drinking.
Rolling with the punches
All of their experiences become permanent personality traits that the players have to factor in.
"The game really tests the players' ability to roll with the punches," said Bourassa.
Bourassa was inspired to create the game in part by watching how his fellow game creators reacted to stress. As a horror movie fan, he was also inspired by the films he watched.
"A lot of great tension comes from a group under duress," he said.
He hopes the game will help people realize that hero characters can be less than perfect in real life too.
"It's always a hope when you make a video game that people will respond to it in such a way and carry those responses with them," said Bourassa.
Bourassa said so far the game has had a very positive response.
"It's incredibly rewarding to see there was an appetite for it," he said.
To hear more about Darkest Dungeon, click the audio clip labelled: Darkest Dungeon game factors in characters' mental health