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Warning: This review contains several spoilers.

I am a Bipolar 1 sufferer. As such I have gone through several deep depressions, and have tried to take my own life on occasions. After the last one I sought help, and I am now medicated. As someone who has dealt with depression, Depression Quest appealed to me. I absolutely devour books, and really believe in their immersive nature. You know that feeling as you read, where you pass the final chapter and you realise that nothing will ever be the same, I was looking for that.

The first time I played Depression Quest alone in the dark, in my bed, I was willing it to suck me straight in. It started off well. The piano playing really works to sink you into a low mood, and the plain grey textures and palate are reminiscent of so many nights staring at computer screens looking for answers. As a dyslexic the font was easy to read, if a little too “fun” looking for my taste. The photography works well however, but the constant reference to weather, again distanced myself from the narrative, especially if for example it was hot when I felt cold. I tried to role play as if I was in the middle of a depressive episode.

depression quest 1

However, once the story began I started to encounter problems. You straight away meet your partner Alex. How shrewd of the developers I thought to give them a genderless name, only for her to be pointed out as female a few lines later. While I am aware of the existence of lesbians, I am not one, and so I immediately pictured the protagonist as “not me”. He was a tall, white, guy with messy brown hair that I mentally named “Alix”. When he was in his apartment, it was not my apartment, when he walked to work, it was not my work, and the city was not even in the country in which I live. There are several disconnects which further distance yourself from Alix. His internet friend “attic”, is labeled as male, then female, then male again. He is told to go home from his job early as “the place is dead” suggesting retail, but later he is working on a project for work suggesting an office job. To me Alix worked in a video rental store, somewhere I have no experience working.

While I understand, as the developers describe at the start, that everyone’s depression is different, I found it hard to relate to several aspects of Alix’s personality. While I understood his desire to not want to go out, the exhaustion, the self loathing, the comfort in animals and the sleepless nights looking at the internet, there were several symptoms which didn’t fit. He never slept, where I would regularly sleep 16 hours a day, he refused, and the game did not allow you, to talk to anyone about your depression or suicidal thoughts, where as I told everyone and felt completely numb to their awkward reactions, and I guess most damning of all, he refused to seek help, not because like me, he thought he was better than it and could beat it on his own, but because he hated himself.

depression quest 2

I enjoyed the fact that several productive options were crossed out. It helped to remind me that when you are depressed you often can’t do the things that you know are the best for you. However, as the story goes on, almost all options are crossed out forcing you to pick the one remaining. I felt that this was supposed to leave you frustrated at yourself for how impotent you are in your depression, however, I only felt frustrated at Alix for not doing what I want, and mostly frustrated at the developers for what I felt was lazy story telling. Without being given options to drive the story, you feel even further from the protagonist and it sucks you out of the story completely.

In the end Alix remained depressed. While I understood that the developers wanted to show that depression never ends, I felt the game could have been more powerful if it showed the power of medication. Becoming medicated it the best thing that ever happened for my depression. I take part in an online course which reminds me how important my medication is and encourages me to keep taking it. If Alix had finally medicated, his thoughts become clearer, and he started to pick his life back up then I feel the game would have been a much stronger tool in helping people cope with depression rather than just trying to make people feel depressed.

On my second play through, where I tried to help Alix by doing everything from the position of a sane person, I found I could medicate him, get him into therapy and even move in with Alex. This to me made me feel that if someone without depression played, they would find it easy to get help, where as someone with depression would only have the idea that they are worthless compounded into them.

depression quest 3

This made me feel a bit of a failure at Depression Quest as I made all the wrong decisions, and if it had been more immersive might have been extremely problematic for a depression sufferer. Basically, if you role play as someone with depression, it ends with Alix pretty much suicidal, where as, if you act as productively as possible, you can end up in therapy and medicated. This idea was problematic for me, as if I had only played through once, and I was currently depressed, I would have seen no way out. There is no win or fail state in depression and there should not be in a depiction of it.

Mainly, I just feel the game had many good ideas, and is a good starting point, but faltered in completely immersing me, and so when it ended I was just glad to say goodbye to Alix and his choiceless life. I felt it was problematic for those suffering from depression, but I know not everyone would feel the same. I would be interested in seeing it developed into a series of different people, with different experiences of depression,  but also to offer solutions for those suffering from depression; a way out, even if they make all the wrong decisions.

5.0
 

Average

Summary

I applaud the idea, but the execution is poor. Sane people will find it easy to recover, while sufferers will see no way out.


Georgina Young

Contributor

British girl, currently in Japan. Surviving on a diet of retro games. Worshiping the god that is the Sega Megadrive. I like Nintendo.



  • Topgeartony

    I’m I’m not surprised. People deal with depression. This game is not some black and white code of “All” depression.

  • Nervatel

    As someone who has my own mental disorders, I find it distasteful it was designed use the logic of someone who isn’t depressed as the most rewarding format used. The game almost creates a notion that the best way to “win” at depression, is by thinking like you aren’t depressed,

  • ArsenicSundae

    Now I understand while all the critics were gushing over this and handing out awards like it was Christmas morning. All the options to do otherwise had been crossed out.

  • coboney

    As someone who has also had depression issues, I think I can see where the critics may have come from. It does make an attempt to teach people a bit about depression and such but it seems that it did so in a poorly written and somewhat simplistic manner with a resolution of meds fix all and perhaps didn’t discuss other tools and such.

    On the other hand, for someone who has never dealt with it, getting a look inside might be something different

  • TL; DR version:
    it’s crap

  • Manticore

    As a guy who’s lost his best friend to Bipolar disorder and are still struggling I could relate to some of the things in the depression quest. However I also see things which are contrary to things I myself have done while being depressed and how my friend handled it, and the game didn’t really mean anything, it didn’t get me to think more about depression or make a lasting impression, it were boring, not well put together and in terms of games, a bad experience.
    I feel however that this falls outside the spectrum for games, especially when compered to other games which have subtly talked about similar themes in their games. The game felt more like a poorly put together interactive infomercial, without the info. And for a game with such a important theme they should have fleshed out the game, polished it and actually made a bigger effort to make a working story.

  • ghostlife

    Please don’t call it a game, I’ve done 100 times more programming than DQ required on my calculator.

  • Jake Martinez

    I agree with George’s overall review here. I would just add that I would absolutely NOT recommend giving this game to someone with depression or having them play it. Like George noted, the message contained within is likely to inspire emotions of hopelessness in people because it naively puts forth the idea that if you “do everything right” then you can beat depression.

    That’s a lie. You can’t. There is no sure fire path to success when dealing with chronic depression and everyone should have a realistic expectation that there is no “win state”. Also, many people will NOT have supportive friends or family, or they will NOT have stable environments, so they will put an unrealistic expectation upon situations likely outside their control as being required or necessary to “get better”.

    Finally, this game sends the wrong message to people who are taking care of individuals with depression. It gives them the false impression that if they are merely kind and supportive to the person who is suffering that everything will eventually be okay. It will likely inspire them to have unrealistic expectations about someones progress when battling depression which in turn will cause the individual who is suffering even more distress.

    Frankly, this game is not just “bad”, it’s down right irresponsible. I would implore anyone else who in the future wants to make a game like this to work with a proper clinical psychologist in developing the narrative and ludology. There is absolutely a way that a game can be a positive experience for either people who are suffering with depression or those who are supporting them, but this isn’t it.

  • Force – Vendor#1168

    You are depressed! Do you:
    A. Donate money to Zoe Quinn
    B. Donate money to Zoe Quinn
    C. Donate money to Zoe Quinn

  • Cerxi

    “it naively puts forth the idea that if you “do everything right” then you can beat depression.”

    /Thank/ you! I’ve been struggling for months to quantify just what about this game made me so incredibly uncomfortable, and this clicked it for me; the very idea it subtly puts forth that depression itself is a game or puzzle, something that can be “solved” if only you work at it hard enough, or, failing that, crack open a walkthrough.

  • Cerxi

    It’s part of the Twine interface, many/most Twine games have a sidebar with game/dev info on it.

    (Source: I volunteer judge at IFComp every year.)

  • Niwjere

    No. No scores. Stop perpetuating scoring.

    And stop calling it a game already. It isn’t worthy of that descriptor.

  • Okaashi

    I first found and tried depression quest while in a deep depression episode around this time last year. I was in a terrible relationship and wanted to find an outlet that could relate to what I was feeling. Naturally, DQ popped up.

    Upon playing it the first time, I found myself relating to the character, and had many of my symptoms being described as I played by the protagonist. However, as more and more options fell through, and I lost relationships and climbed further into depression, I found that it seemed as though there truly was no way out. I shared the game after completion with a friend to illustrate that it grasped how I was feeling, but in all reality, the game did nothing but increase my suicidal thoughts. I wound up getting help and lifting myself out of depression about a month later, but blocked the memory of this game due to the way it made me feel. It was only until the gamergate controversy that I realized that DQ was the same game that I had played and caused me to consider suicide again. I can applaud this review in that it approached the game seriously, with strong attempts to find merit, and did not bring LW or any of the controversy into the mix. I can also applaud it for it’s honesty, and I hope that people with serious depression issues don’t try this game. It will romanticize depression (in my opinion) and may cause unsafe thoughts upon completion.

    And for those who would argue that this is not a game, I can’t help but disagree. Plenty of games have been done with fewer coding skills, and the game does have some sort of reward/penalty complex. To waste time arguing semantics of what a game truly is, instead of actually acknowledging the harm this poses to suicidal individuals, doesn’t seem right given the social context and recognition this game has received despite it’s lack of real depression handling.

  • PJ_Almighty42

    While I partially agree with the fact that it’s not “all” depression. A little due-diligence would be in order for what kind of depression *is* in the game.

    Haven’t played, not going to, after reading and understanding how horrible the person behind the game is. But, from what it sounds like, she never did do proper research/talked to the right people and decided to be controversial over making a quality game that might actually help people with depression.

  • Hendrik Vanderstijn

    you might find platformer ‘fixation’ on kongregate a far superior game, both in storytelling as in gameplay.

    It’s about someone with a smoking addiction and the underlying problems. I find myself thinking about that from time to time and it usually gives me strength.

  • 11/10 GOTY. I’m afraid I have nothing bad to say about the game.