Games have a problem. A lot of the time they aren't about anything. And often, the ones that are about SOMETHING aren't about anything important. With development budgets that stretch into the millions and $60 price tags I frankly find it insulting that the money I spend on games, that often promise lofty features such as “deep and immersive story telling” or an “emotional experience”, rarely deliver in these areas.
Well something has happened. In recent years indie developers have really been giving it their all to take up the slack that the triple A developers have been all too happy to pave over with advertising money.
Depression Quest is a new game brought to you by the compulsively creative Zoe Quinn and the games critic Patrick Lindsey with music by Isaac Schankler. Depression Quest is more of a browser based interactive story book than a game really but certainly falls into the category of a gamified story book.
If you have any personal experience of living with depression you will find something profoundly relatable in the “Over 40k words of interactive fiction“. And if you have ever been close to someone with depression or with a different experience of depression from your own, you will find yourself coming out the other side with a greater understanding of their plight.
It takes a good hour to complete a play-through and its free to play at their website. There is a pay-what-you-want option which I strongly encourage you to use. A portion of the proceeds will go to supporting iFred “a charity that aims to fight back against depression and the stigma against it.”
In Depression Quest you play as a nameless “mid-twenties human being” (I guess it was going to be gender neutral at one point) who struggles with depression. As the story unfolds you make decisions about how you're going to deal with various situations, mainly related to social functions and interactions with other people including your girlfriend and family and how best to function in the world with the constant obstacle of your condition.
At the bottom of the page there is a 3 part summary which displays the status and efficacy of your condition, treatment (if any) and medication (if any).
The decisions you make as you proceed through the, well thought out narrative, guide, not only where the story will take you, but also, depending on how you feel as a result of the consequences of those decisions, what options are open to you at all.
You can't go from “make an excuse to stay home” to “Socialize enthusiastically” from one question to the next. Illustrating how, while suffering depression, its not a matter of whether or not you take these avenues but instead how it feels like many of the possibilities in life are not even open to you at all.
This extends to the point where if you make a few destructive decisions you can quickly find yourself in a downward spiral that makes you unwilling to seek professional help or even talk to those closest to you about your problems thus reinforcing the destructive downward spiral you set yourself on.
There are a few criticisms to be made though. There are a few typo's and syntax errors peppered throughout the story (which is entirely text based) and I have a hard time believing that people so close to you would ever be under the impression that “you just get a little sad sometimes” is an acceptable explanation for your quite clearly depressive behaviour. In reality they perhaps may not exactly KNOW but at the same time would understand that there's more to it than just being a little sad sometimes.
Nitpicking aside I believe that Depression Quest achieved exactly what it set out to do and is something of a triumph in story telling while carrying an important message.
*has struggled with emotional problems from an early age*