Depression Quest, the game

Depression Quest is an “interactive (non)fiction game” designed to simulate the experience of depression. The game was created by Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey and Isaac Schankler (though most sources cite Quinn as the primary author).

Interactive fiction games, also know as “text adventure” games, present the player with short text passages to read. After each text block, the player must input an appropriate action (also in text form) to move the story forward and bring up the next text passage. The story might branch in various directions, depending on which choices the player makes. Depression Quest includes 40,000 words and 150 “unique encounters”, depending on a player’s choices.

Some old-school text adventure games confront players with a command prompt, where one must type in an action: e.g., “take sword” or “use key”. This can get frustrating if one has to guess a non-obvious next action by trial and error. Other games — including Depression Quest — present possible player actions in multiple choice form.

Depression Quest’s most distinctive quirk is in presenting certain action choices in strikethrough text. The player can see those possible actions, but cannot choose them to move the story forward. These choices tend to be the most productive, rational choices to life’s troubles, the sort of choices an exasperated companion might recommend to a depression sufferer: “why don’t you just snap out of it, cheer up and do … ?”. The idea is to make depression’s cycle of despair, lethargy and self-sabotage an essential part of the gameplay.

The gamemakers’ introduction states:

The goal of this game is twofold: firstly, we want to illustrate as clearly as possible what depression is like, so that it may be better understood by people without depression. Hopefully this can be something to spread awareness and fight against the social stigma and misunderstandings that depression sufferers face. Secondly, our hope is that in presenting as real a simulation of depression as possible, other sufferers will come to know that they aren’t alone, and hopefully derive some measure of comfort from that.

Many depression sufferers will be ambivalent about playing this game. Some find insight and comfort in creative works (fiction, memoirs, films) that evoke the experience of depression. Others try to avoid such works, knowing that too much exposure can exacerbate one’s own negative feelings and undermine one’s coping strategies. As I get older, I tend toward the “avoid” group more and more. Both are valid paths, and each depression sufferer must figure out what works for them.

Whether you decide to play the game or not, Quinn and company deserve our admiration for undertaking this project, bringing the game to market and generating so much discussion. Setting yourself a challenging goal, sticking to your guns and creating something worthwhile is itself a GREAT strategy for smashing depression.

The New Yorker ran a profile of Zoe Quinn today, reviewing the bizarre controversies surrounding Depression Quest since its release one month ago. Since I don’t read gaming media, the whole kerfuffle passed me by.

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