Depression Quest: The Review!

I mentioned in my post from the other day about the current wave of problems created by sexist gamers that I had played Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest.  I also said there that I thought it was a solid interactive fiction game.  I’ve been thinking about it a little bit, and I wanted to give a more in depth explanation of my impressions of the game.

Each scene is topped with a minimalist image like this to help set the tone. (Image credit: Depression Quest)

First off, I want to reiterate that I have never met Quinn in person (nor any other developers or journalists in the gaming community) nor have I ever corresponded with her.  These are just my impressions after playing through the game once.

The setup for Depression Quest is that you play as an unnamed, ungendered person who suffers from clinical depression.  You have a pretty extensive support network with coworkers, online friends, an older brother, your parents, and your girlfriend Alex.  If you’re familiar with interactive fiction as a genre, then the structure of the game is easy enough to follow (you’re presented with a series of scenes, typically describing a day in your life, and depending on what choices you’ve made up to that point, different options for responding to the scene will be available).  To give you a sense of your current state, each scene ends with three summary statements that describe your level of depression, current amount of therapy you’re receiving, and whether you are taking medication.

The response options provide an interesting conceit where they present you with a full range of responses, including options that would be possible for a person without clinical depression, but unavailable options are struck through and marked red to let you know they can’t be chosen (I found it intriguing that from the very first scene you always have unavailable options; it’s a nice shorthand way of evoking the frustration that comes from knowing what the socially appropriate response is, but feeling completely unable to carry through with it).

The scenes vary in scope from deciding whether to call in sick to work because you’re having a very bad day to deciding if you want to try to help an online friend with a personal problem to figuring out how to approach your anxiety about your girlfriend deciding to move in with you (some of these scenes may or may not play out depending on your choices; I can’t be certain since I only played through a single time, but the impression I had was that there were definitely key scenes where the story could have branched with different decisions).

One thing that the developers emphasize at the start of the game is that it’s a semi-fictional account.  The scenes depicted are likely amalgamations of personal experiences that the developers have had, but put into an idealized setting.  In reality, many people with clinical depression don’t have the same level of support offered here, with caring family and friends and access to affordable therapy and medication.  The point of the idealized scenario seems to me intended to highlight just how difficult living with clinical depression is.  That point gets hammered home with the ending where nothing is really resolved; you share a meal with your parents and reflect on how the last few months have played out with a brief paragraph giving an outlook for various aspects of your life.  For my playthrough, I think that I generally made the best decisions possible, as I finished with mild depression while still engaged in regular therapy and taking antidepressants.  Even in trying to maximize treatment, there were still scenes towards the end where I would have to deal with having really bad days that left me unable to get out of bed; though I had agreed to live together with Alex, there was still anxiety about sharing a living space with someone still learning about my condition.  The tone was generally hopeful, but realistic about still being unresolved.

Depression Quest is free to play online here.

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