15 October 2014

Depression Quest – A Review

Welcome back, readers!

Lately there's been a lot of discussion about #GamerGate and their espoused views on women developers and characters.  Gawker actually has a pretty solid article on it, focused around the current GG focal point of Depression Quest by Zoe Quinn.

Given that many of the criticisms I encountered were couched in "but it was a crappy game" language, I decided to play the game myself.  By the way, Depression Quest is free on Steam, if you'd be so inclined to play it yourself.  It's a pretty short game on a per-playthrough basis which is a blessing, because as a person who has struggled with depression for pretty much my entire life, I can say that even a few hours in the head of a seriously depressed individual is utterly exhausting, but before I give you my full take on the game, allow me to enumerate the main complaints against it (which you can see in the Gawker article and also on the Steam Community comments).

1) "This isn't even a game"
2) "Depression isn't like this."
3) "Woman developer – ack outrage"

Let's be contrarian together and tackle that list in reverse order.  "Woman developer - ack outrage"... This is ridiculous as an argument against the game – or any game for that matter.  Does the game have failings? Yes.  But those failings have to do with expectations versus what was delivered, and absolutely nothing to the gender/sex of the writer.

Tackling the 2nd comment is a bit more difficult, because parts of the cohort that argues this are actually sufferers from depression themselves.  The fact is that, yes, depression really is like this – where options are cut off to you, where you spiral out of control in negative feedback loops, where you can't get out of bed somedays, where you are literally stuck with only a few options and sometimes those options really suck.  But not everyone's experience with depression is the same, so part of that complaint that Depression isn't as shown, is true.  The HEART of depression which is shown openly and viciously and painfully in this game is actually honest and very useful.  If you or someone you know suffers from depression or knows someone who does, I have 2 bits of advice for you: 1) Therapy.  Seriously.  Therapy is the single best tool you can arm yourself with in order to survive depression.  2) Get yourself and those around you resources in order to understand depression.  Depression Quest is a great, interactive tool.  Andrew Solomon's TED Talk is brilliant and helpful.  Dr. David Burns's Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy is a great book on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

That brings us to the 1st complaint, that Depression Quest isn't a game.  This argument is understandable, because the vehicle for the game is so much different than most other games.  There's not a lot of interaction, there is a lot of reading, and there's very definite lack of images.  So, yeah, that is different.  The writing is exceptional, the options that are crossed out are every bit as important as the options you do have access to, and like actual depression, the game doesn't really "end" in the traditional sense.  There's no triumphal march, no victory trumpets, just a general feeling that you've made the best decisions you could given what you felt, and that you've survived.

In my opinion, it's a game worth playing.  There were a lot of risks taken in the minimalism of the game, and not all of them paid off, but that the designers took risks is great.  The writing is solid.  The story is super depressing, and that will frustrate people, but it's still a worthwhile playthrough.

As always, thanks for reading.
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