Depression Quest

Or: How a Text Based Indie Game Changed my Life

I suffer from depression. It is a mental illness that at best leaves me lethargic and unmotivated. At worst, it makes me contemplate jumping off a bridge, wondering if anyone would even come to my funeral. Depression isn’t something I can easily talk about without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. It’s hard to put into words what depression is like. Most of the time I feel that I sound whiny or lazy when describing it. Which, in turn, makes me feel even more ashamed and then angry at myself, and then more depressed.

Yesterday, my girlfriend and I got into a fight over my depression. I was having one of what we call my “Down Days”. These are some of the days the illness is the most severe. There are “Up Days” too. But “Up Days” are relative. Even an “Up Day” can be pretty bad. Some of the worst “Up Days” usually turn into “Down Days”. Yesterday was like that.

After we fought and made up, I put my girlfriend to bed. Then I settled myself in front of our little POS Toshiba laptop. Normally after we have a disagreement I feel fatigued and drained. But a fight on a Down Day leaves me completely demoralized. I was wracked with guilt and self-loathing over everything we fought about and it was obvious I wasn’t going to bed anytime soon. After refreshing both my Facebook and Twitter feeds for forty-five minutes and scrolling through all the Tumblr posts I’d missed this weekend I found myself and hour on the wrong side of midnight and no closer to sleep.

Then as I was going over my Twitter feed for the fifth time, I was reminded that an indie game developer I follow had just completed and released a game about depression. The game, called Depression Quest, had been stirring up quite a bit of commotion since it was released on Valentine’s Day. I figured I had nothing to lose, dropped five bucks on the game and jumped in. (The game works on a donation system. You can choose to pay any amount for it, even $0.)

Depression Quest is a text based choose your own adventure type game. You are put in the shoes of a depressed twenty-something and presented with various scenarios and interactions. These can range from being invited out for drinks with coworkers to having your mother drop by unexpectedly. Then you choose from a list of possible responses to the scenario. The game simply asks you to manage our depression from scenario to scenario. If your depression worsens certain more balanced or level responses become unavailable to you in subsequent scenarios. This game is far from fun or entertaining.

I cried almost the entire time I played Depression Quest. A twenty-five year old man sitting hunched over his laptop openly weeping in the phosphorescent glow of the screen. From the very first scenario it seemed like Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey, and Isaac Schankler had hidden cameras in my apartment and made a game about my life. Everything from trying and failing to get after work projects off the ground to trying to discuss your depression with a parent that outright does not understand you or the nature of the disease. Every word was like a punch to the diaphragm.

Not only were the scenarios all too familiar. Depression Quest’s description of the symptoms and feelings that come along with the disease is the most poignantly accurate depiction of depression I have ever read. Zoe, Patrick, and Isaac didn’t merely stop at spying on me. They were in my head. They knew every ounce of my anguish, my sadness, my embarrassment. And then they laid it all out on a page in a way I had never dreamed possible.

So now I ask you. If you are, or know anyone affected by depression, please go to DepressionQuest.com and spend a few minutes of your day playing this game. It won’t be pleasant or fun. But at the very least you will know how people with depression can suffer in silence for years. And at the most you will learn that there are people just like you, who go through the same pain and anguish on a daily basis. You are not alone. You can get help. Just like I am going to get help.

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