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    dkirschner's Depression Quest (PC)

    [December 4, 2016 10:34:13 PM]
    This semester I gave a presentation on gender and sexuality in gaming post-Gamergate, i.e., what has changed in response? I read more about Gamergate than I ever had before and figured I'd download the game that sparked the shitstorm. I'm all for interactive fiction and games thematically outside the norm, as is practically everyone who studies the medium. So one of my questions was simply, "Did I think this was a good game?"

    My first point is, although this isn't a game by mainstream definitions, it's a game by academic ones. That was the first and main criticism of Depression Quest before sex and journalism ethics was brought into it. There's artificial conflict (between your character and him/herself and other characters), there are rules, and there is a quantifiable outcome where your depression exists along a continuum. There is a goal (manage your depression), a feedback system (the answers you select change the following scenes and your character's depression state), and you play voluntarily. Given that I'd read soooo many diatribes calling this not a game, I kinda thought it wouldn't be, but it totally is, though atypical.

    My second point is that this is an important game. One way you can tell it is an important game is by the controversy it caused. People are having existential crises over games not looking and playing like AAA titles, which is bizarre in 2016. There are more indie games than grains of sand on the beach, man! Though one can easily imagine something more interactive to teach us about depression, this is a solid effort. I've recently played a game about a blind girl (Beyond Eyes) that provides some insight into that condition, and hopefully some empathy. I've played Papa & Yo about having an alcoholic father and child abuse. I have my students play Darfur is Dying to give them insight into life as a refugee in the Sudan. There's an app about everyday racism. There are so many important games that are not about shooting aliens or getting high scores. This is art that needs to be made and experienced. You can't convey in a painting what I just experienced in this simple text game about depression.

    Intro matter aside, I do not have depression. I do live with someone who does. My favorite person in the world suffers from it. I see her in this game. But the game encourages the player to see themselves too. I relate to some of the social anxiety that the character deals with (being anxious at a party, avoiding socializing with strangers, wanting to retreat to a room and/or just drink a lot real fast to get comfortable around strangers). That stuff isn't abnormal. One difference is that a depressed person is often embarrassed or ashamed by their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, whereas non-depressed people usually aren't. My partner sometimes sleeps like she's dead, stays in bed half the day, thinks she's screwing everything up, avoids difficult tasks, has low self-esteem, even talks about killing herself when things get overwhelming. That's life. You draw support from your network. You see a therapist. You try to find things that are meaningful to you. You try to find things to look forward to. It's not always going to happen, but you keep working at it. It's important for non-depressed people to understand that you can't rationalize a depressed person's thoughts. I can tell my girlfriend all day long, "You are stressed out because you are sleeping until 3pm and then you don't have time to do anything, and it's making you more stressed out" and it doesn't matter. Depression isn't rational. And depression makes people spiral inward and downward.

    The “quest” element in Depression Quest is thought-provoking, as I actively managed the character’s depression. That's the goal: get less depressed; manage it. It worsened to severe, but I got it back down to regular depression, and then to under control. Seeing a therapist helped in the game as in real life (luckily the character had a good therapist!). I usually couldn't pick the dialogue option that the real me would pick, but there was usually an option that's like a more resigned version of what I’d pick. Like, instead of “Just get out of bed and get ready for work. You’ll be late, but it’s better than not going at all!” I picked “I guess I'll get dressed and go to work, even though I'll be so late it won't be worth it.” There’s not that optimism, that positive thinking there. It’s more dread, futility.

    After I completed the game and got the "good" ending where you are successfully managing your depression, I replayed making clearly terrible choices and predictably the outcome was terrible. I hated my job, my girlfriend left me, I made a scene at dinner, I'm terribly lonely, etc. I must be good at dealing with life since I made all the "good" choices in the game. Oh, I also like that you can get a cat, which again as in real life, helped the character feel less lonely (if your cat isn't an ass at least).

    But does this sort of invalidate the premise of the game, that you can make choices that ease the depression? The game sort of undermines its own premise because you can easily choose the "correct" answers and get a positive outcome where the character manages their depression very well. I imagine this simply confirms for some people (who don't suffer from depression) the idea (that people with depression refute) that you can just think yourself out of it, which is problematic for developing empathy.

    I found Depression Quest a worthwhile experiment to click through. If you're curious, it takes like 45 minutes. Definitely made me think a lot more than I'd anticipated.
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    dkirschner's Depression Quest (PC)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Sunday 4 December, 2016

    GameLog closed on: Sunday 4 December, 2016

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Got to play this for its role in Gamergate. ----------- Actually very interesting and enjoyable experience. Dare I say important.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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