Friday, January 17, 2014

A Bit of Something Different: Depression Quest

For those of you that actually know me, you also know that I have struggled with depression both seasonally and for no apparent reason. While I generally do not like talking about my emotional struggles, it is refreshing to find someone or something that seems to "get it."When I first heard about Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey and Isaac Shankler's game, I was both intrigued and concerned. A literary game about depression? I was so sure that myself, or anyone like me would want to role play something that they have been afflicted with the whole of their adult life for all the wrong reasons. Luckily I decided to give it a try anyway—turns out that while it isn't something that I would play repeatedly, Depression Quest is an innovatively designed game that has more to it than would originally meet the eye.

The game is described on its home page as "an interactive (non)fiction about living with depression" and follows a "choose your story" line of thought as you move through the first scenarios. I think that what got me interested in the game in the first place is the acknowledgement letter on the front page, namely that depression is different for everyone and acknowledging that the experiences conveyed in this game are not the same that everyone else has. I think that one of the things that frustrates me most as an individual with depression is how frequently someone says "Oh yeah, I know how that feels." This game was vehemently arguing that that was not the case or even slightly what they were trying to convey—I think that is important fact to keep in mind for people playing the game that have suffered with depression, and people who have not, but may be trying to see what it is like or understand a loved one or friend.

The structure of the game play is built around web pages and audio as a means to "set the scene," and is very text heavy. Basically, it will describe a scene and situation, and then give the player three or more options for how they would respond. For many individuals, I admittedly think that this could be a deterrent as text-heavy pages can be overwhelming and may be disinteresting for some. Because I was already committed to playing through the game, this did not affect me as much as it normally would have, but be aware. As you select which action you would have taken, or want the "character" to take, it will bring you to a new page. Each of these pages deals with one of the integral aspects of depression as it had been experienced by the game's designers and developers: seeking treatment, social interactions, anxiety, guilt, and the associated feelings and situations that can come with them.

It is difficult for me to pinpoint what it is that I like so much about this game, other than the fact that it feels strangely "good" to know that there is someone else out there who has gone through the same feelings. While it sounds somewhat self-serving, I think it is good to feel that you aren't alone. As a friend of mine said, when discussing the game, "It's scary how real this is and to know that this is exactly what depression is about. Also somewhat comforting that many other people have felt this way, because it's such an alone feeling." I couldn't agree more. Don't get me wrong, it is somewhat painful to go through the scenes and already know what you are going to pick as the option because you have lived it before a million times, but it is also cathartic.

I am not sure that I will be playing through this a million times, and I do know that it veers away from the typical content/games discussed by this blog. While I could take the time to make excuses that technically it is similar to a "campaign" in DnD or other tabletop RPGs, that's not really why I'm writing about it. This game is awesome, for a plethora of reasons: it helps people who have been afflicted with depression feel that they are not alone; it helps provide a lens through which people who are trying to work out of their depression can get a clearer look at their own decisions and choices, and it helps partners, friends, and families who might not understand depression get a glimpse into what it actually feels like. For all of these reasons, as well as the obvious written craft and planning that went into Depression Quest, I feel it deserves recognition. You can play it for free, read more critiques, and see some of the advanced features here.

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