The past few weeks in the gaming industry have been, for lack of a better word, bleak, in regards to how we treat each other. Game developers, journalists, and enthusiasts have been fighting about how said relationships should be functioning, with distrust and anger running high. At the tip of this iceberg is the continued (and escalated) harrassment towards Feminist Frequency creator Anita Sarkeesian and game developer Zoe Quinn, among many other female members of the community. With this flood of toxic behavior, it’s been hard to remember all the good that the medium can actually do. I love video games. Games can provide enjoyment, they can be an escape, they can teach, and they can give you access to a set of ideas that you might not have had a chance to experience firsthand. It is for this reason I want to highlight the game Depression Quest, written by Zoe Quinn and Patrick Lindsey.
From the site:
Depression Quest is an interactive fiction game where you play as someone living with depression. You are given a series of everyday life events and have to attempt to manage your illness, relationships, job, and possible treatment. This game aims to show other sufferers of depression that they are not alone in their feelings, and to illustrate to people who may not understand the illness the depths of what it can do to people.
This sounds rather straightfoward, and for the most part, it is. However, there are a few key features thrown into the game that help illustrate the struggle a bit better. First, the game measures a depression level and, second, the game gives you a set of options to choose from in each situation, illustrating how limiting situations can be when you’re suffering from depression. The depression level manifests itself by increased static over the provided pictures for each scenario.
But here’s where it gets interesting: the game has multiple endings which gives the game a sense of openness, showing that each person/player’s experience will be somewhat different, just like in real life. The depression level also affects the choices the player can choose, but with a small twist. The same choices will appear, but some will be unable to be picked. This feels like a parallel to the “why don’t you just be happy?” argument many with depression face. It’s not that simple to just “be happy” and makes it more difficult to play for a “best ending.” In this game, it’s best to choose the option that you would most likely choose yourself to get a more personal experience. In addition, the depression level affects the progression of the soundtrack in a way to accompany the scenario.
Bringing all this together is why I have such an appreciation for the game. Besides just being an interesting text game with useful mechanics, it opens up an experience that not everyone has had an opportunity to witness, or understand as deeply. Personally, I’ve dealt with rough feelings in both myself and those around me… but hadn’t done any deeper digging or speculation to see if it could be something else. A game like this shows the experience in a sort of “quantifiable” way that makes it easier to relate to, specifically some of the harder to articulate, “grey” feelings. By seeing certain feelings expressed and shown through various scenarios, it can inspire a player to think more about their own life and the lives of others. This is one of the strengths of the video game medium and why we should promote it. Additionally, this is why we should promote those in the industry who propagate such strengths within games.
When discussing the game, I must mention the developer, Zoe Quinn—as always, it’s important and great to see more female-led dev teams. Although the number is increasing, adding to the diversity of the group is only a positive thing. Depression Quest is often considered a “non-standard” game, being a text game. This label may come from being outside of the modern “norm” of gaming—which is again a good thing. We’re getting further away from a homogenized idea of what constitutes a video game and this can only increase the number of ideas and perspectives we can get to play. In this way, she and her team have crafted an experience that respectfully and informatively touches on a sensitive subject: something we don’t see enough in games. Lastly, I have to give a huge nod to Issac Schankler for his work on the soundtrack to the game, a moody, fitting piece. It is my strong opinion that music can make or break a game, and the ambient tone doesn’t disappoint. By combining all these pieces together, Quinn shows us what games can do and what they can really be.
As the game is intended to spread awareness, the game is available for free or pay-what-you-want at DepressionQuest.com and, more recently, free on Steam. I recommend giving it a shot when you get some time. It only takes roughly an hour and has a fair bit of replayability if you want to choose different options through each playthrough!