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Christopher Arnold of Crowned Daemon Studios

Christopher Arnold of Crowned Daemon Studios calls in to talk about the studio’s mental health-focused game, Syntherapy, the inspiration behind its development, and its reception in the community.

Crowned Daemon Studios wants to guide you through an exploration of therapy and mental health issues unique from just about any other. Its visual novel adventure game, Syntherapy, places you (a therapist) in charge of the diagnosis and treatment of an artificial intelligence in a story with over 30 possible endings. This is not your average visual novel; Crowned Daemon leveraged publisher support to put together a fully voice-acted experience, and the sense of dramatic immersion is real.

While you’ll interact with an artificial patient in the game, the story’s influence is both real and personal.

“A lot of it’s just personal history,” says Arnold. “This actually started as sort of a cathartic exercise of sort of externalizing thoughts and feelings and things that I was trying to figure out in a format where I could read it back a little bit later and it wasn’t just on my mind all the time.” He says the idea of making the game’s patient an AI came from the realization that we look at mental health in terms of functionality, much the way we tend to troubleshoot technology.

In terms of professional consulting and research, Arnold says the writing of psychologist blogger Scott Alexander provided an eye-opening look at the mindset of a practicing therapist. Arnold credits Alexander’s work with his understanding of the field’s complicated relationship to society and its problems that don’t always have perfectly clinical answers.

Syntherapy is available now on Steam.

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By Todd Mitchell

Todd Mitchell is a US Midwest-based independent game developer and freelance writer. He's the author of Inside Video Game Creation, the founder of CodeWritePlay, and host of the GameDev Breakdown podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mechatodzilla.

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