Carly A. Kocurek, PhD - Games, Scholarship, Media

Casual Thinking. Serious Gaming.

What I’ve Been Playing: Depression Quest

Category : Gaming Mar 21st, 2013

Depression Quest is an interactive fiction title that is more or less exactly what its title implies, which is to say, it’s a game about depression.

Specifically, it is an interactive fiction-style game in a “choose-your-own-adventure” style. Depression Quest doesn’t allow for open-ended commands. Instead, the player chooses from a prescribed list of options. In many scenes, some of these options are struck, indicating the choices the character is unable to make because of his depression. Throughout the game, each scene is illustrated by a Polaroid-style image at the top of the screen. These images relate to the game’s narrative and are shown through static, which increases if the character grows more depressed or decreases if the character becomes less depressed. The character’s depression is presented as a kind of emotional and visual haze.

Opening screen for Depression Quest

The opening screen for Depression Quest, featuring a quote from David Foster Wallace.

Playing Depression Quest is a lot of things, but it probably isn’t fun. That isn’t a shortcoming — it just isn’t the intention of the game. And, the beginning of the game warns players that it might be upsetting for someone who is actively struggling or has previously struggled with depression. True to the warning, the game is, at times, harrowing and frustrating. It is also deeply moving, and potentially illuminating. For players who haven’t grappled with depression up close and personal, the game offers a glimpse of an extremely difficult, and often misunderstood condition.

The designers, Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey, and Isaac Schankler have clearly put a great deal of thought into the game as a kind of educational experience. It isn’t perfect, but it is an interesting example of the potential for games to suck players into experiences they haven’t had. Many games do this, of course — I haven’t really ever fought an army of zombie skeletons, swam in the deep ocean, or leaped off a building, but I’ve spent a lot of time invested in this activities on screen. However, Depression Quest differs from many games in its efforts to engage players in what is a fundamentally mundane experience. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 10 Americans is depressed, which means that for better or worse, depression is a very normal part of daily life.

Currently, Depression Quest is being considered for Steam Greenlight. Support them here. You can also play for free or pay-what-you-want on the game’s web site.