I spent a lot of time lying on my kitchen floor in 2006 and 2007. Something about the ground helped me.
Everything in my life seemed heavier than it should, so why not just go down? Why stand when you don’t have to? The weight of coming out to my family, of choosing a college, of choices that seemed to finally matter and doing the one thing I’d always dreamed about – leaving – was more than I had prepared myself for.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. “Oh great. Another teenage sob story about how regular life is so hard. Get over it, kid.” Honestly, I thought the same thing. I was too embarrassed and proud to admit to the cliche and let someone help me or just listen. The logical option sat behind mental bars I had erected, so the kitchen floor was how I dealt with it all.
I didn’t start using drugs. I didn’t hurt myself. I didn’t run away. I just didn’t do anything. Problems festered as I put off conversations that seemed scary, let college deadlines slip by, and wondered what would happen if I never went anywhere. All the while, more and more of my time sunk into the cool tiles like the heat from my skin slowly slipping away until I shivered.
That’s what Depression Quest is about. The didn’t. The couldn’t. The can’t.
Depression Quest, created by Zoe Quinn and Patrick Lindsey and available to play at DepressionQuest.com, isn’t a game in the traditional sense. Instead, it opts for the interactive non-fiction label. Don’t be fooled by the genre, there’s more than enough meat here to hook you into and get your brain working.
The story is told through a series of scenes describing you, your partner, and your job, offering a handful of choices to navigate each scenario. Depression happens without a clear beginning, meaning players see a cross section of life with depression rather than a complete personal journey. Don’t expect a dramatic beginning and something you can point back to, saying “if I had only done that differently.”
There’s no goal or reason to move forward, you’re just alive and shuffling between your apartment and a 9 to 5 job. Sometimes you have the chance to go out after work, but sometimes the day’s exhaustion keeps you on the couch with a pizza and Netflix. Old friends pass through on occasion. You consider adopting a cat.
But am I describing the game or your real life? For many, Depression Quest lingers eerily close to home.
The game revels in familiarity. Many people don’t understand the insidious nature of depression and how sufferers can fail at normal circumstances so dramatically. You don’t like your job, your relationship suffers from a lack of communication, comparing yourself to other, more visibly successful people brings you down. These are problems most people face at some point, and common wisdom suggests simple solutions: find a more fulfilling career, speak with your partner frankly about important issues, and focus on your own accomplishments and goals instead of worrying about what other people do.
Except that, with depression, you can’t.
For anyone that’s never suffered from it, not being able to make good choices or even get out of bed may seem weird or unrealistic at first. The game acknowledges this. At one point, a character even tries to reassure the despondent protagonist with the classic puritan work ethic.
“An attitude like that won’t get you anywhere. You need to work harder at getting what you want instead of sitting around feeling sad about it. Nothing good will happen unless you make it happen.”
Depression Quest doesn’t begrudge players who come into its narrative without personal experience. In fact, one of its main goals is education and expression for an illness that strikes one in ten American adults yet still suffers a harsh social stigma.
But depression prevents the logical, easy answer by continuously hammering away at your willpower. As such, Depression Quest presents everyday troubles to the player and even offers those “best” choices. You know what you should do and it is easy…until the debilitating self-defeating cloud settles in so that every current doubt coalesces with your last, stops you from acting, and helps create the next insecurity. The cycle of self-loathing and personal criticism drags you down, makes the best option seem out of reach, and pushes you to make the situation worse.
You lose because you’ve stacked the game against yourself. You can’t win because there is no winning. This is life and you have to play until the game ends.
I was lucky.
My encounter with depression eventually faded back into the general anxiety I carry to this day. A summer job literally took me away from my regular life and helped give me peace of mind. But a simple ending doesn’t happen for everyone.
When Depression Quest ends, it does so suddenly. You time in that role merely runs out. The situation could be worse or it could be better, but it’s done either way. That’s the final message the game’s creators have for us – this is a journey. And we’re on it together.
“After all, that’s all we can really do with depression – just keep moving forward. And at the end of the day it’s our outlook, and support from people just like you, that makes all the difference in the world.
Thank you for playing.”
[imgs via DepressionQuest.com]