This guest post is brought to you by Jessica Vazquez. You can find more from her on Twitter.
I never intended to play Depression Quest.
When I first heard of it I was intrigued, I think many text based games have come into the indie space and really shown that good narrative design can make all the difference in the absence of high-end graphics and gameplay. Depression Quest is one of those examples. My main reason for avoiding it at first was due to the fact that depression has been a constant factor in my life as far back as I can remember. Before it ever had a name to me.
Depression has been a constant factor in my life as far back as I can remember.
My mom battled depression and anxiety while I was growing up but I was oblivious to it. One memory in particular stands out in my mind, seeing scars on her arm from where she cut herself. She didn’t explain why they were there and I didn’t want to ask. Looking back on it now I understand why they were there. She’s in a much better place now but that has a lot to do with the fact that she got help and is on medication. Knowing that still doesn’t keep me from wondering “what if?”. How close had I come to losing someone close to me because of depression?
There are many people on Steam criticizing this game because of it’s lack of “entertainment appeal” and that’s simply not a critique that comes from an understanding of what Depression Quest is. It’s clearly stated in the preface for Depression Quest what the game is about. The goal isn’t to entertain the masses or be the next triple A indie title, it’s to educate a wider audience about a common and highly misunderstood mental illness.
Some people may also be turned off by the fact that it is a text based game and in a world where gaming is becoming more robust it’s easy to look at a game that barely has any visuals and say it’s crap. Text based games aren’t for everybody and for awhile I thought I was over them myself. However, I’ve slowly been rethinking my stance on text-based adventures after playing The Hero Project, which is another game that has a magnificent choose your own adventure narrative structure. In a way Depression Quest is like a choose your own adventure game except it deals in reality, something most gamers may not want to experience. Instead of fighting hordes of zombies you’re fighting hordes of self defeating thoughts and bouts of sudden onset anxiety. Now that’s terrifying.
The most impactful mechanic that Depression Quest has is the lack of options depending on your choices while playing. Make too many negative choices and you may find that when you’re faced with a difficult situation. Every decision that would actually help is visible to you and you’re aware of it but you can’t click on it because it’s crossed out. I suffer from mild social anxiety and there have been many times where I haven’t gone out with friends or attended a social event that I really wanted to go to even though I knew what the positive outcomes of it would be. I could see them in my head but something just grabs hold of you and every time you begin to think positively something inside you says “no”.
During my first playthrough I realized early on that I was making bad decisions based on behavior patterns I’ve followed in my own life. Get invited to a party and what’s the first thing you do when you feel uncomfortable: go hide in a corner or an empty room and attempt to gather your courage. I’ve done that. Seeing it written down on a screen in a context I was familiar with was unsettling but it doesn’t necessarily make me hate the game simply because it reminded me of a time I felt shitty. If anything it’s helped me realize that I have unresolved issues stemming from years of unattended bouts of anxiety. Sure I’m pretty well adjusted, have a steady job, a supportive family, and good friends but that doesn’t always stop the storm clouds from rolling in.
If you play it and you don’t get it or think it’s boring to play text based games right off the bat then you’re probably gonna walk away saying you had a bad experience and hate it. For me games have always been escape from the troubles I’ve faced in my life so why would I want to willingly subject myself to emotional duress? Well, I wanted to understand depression better because I suffer from it, and chances are if you haven’t suffered from it you probably know someone close to you who has. Depending on how you play you can see authentic portrayals of how people dealing with depression behave and maybe it’ll help you get help for yourself or reach out to someone you know who may be having issues.
The appeal of Depression Quest really falls under two extremes. People who hate it and people who play it and understand what it’s trying to accomplish. For every negative review I’ve read I’ve read one where someone is connecting with the narrative of the game. Knowing you’re not the only person dealing with issues like this can be extremely helpful for people who feel alone in the world. If you’ve got an hour to kill and seriously want to understand depression better, I highly recommend paying it.