Depression Quest — 3.5/5 Stars
Depression Quest is a text-based, “choose-your-own-adventure” game developed by Zoë Quinn. Depression Quest is intended to be something other than just “fun.” Its goal isn’t to entertain, but to raise awareness and educate people about depression and mental illness. It does this by allowing players to step into the shoes of someone struggling with depression and share their experience first-hand. To this end, Depression Quest is available to download for free.
As a text-based game, gameplay consists of reading the story and choosing what happens next from a list of options. The twist is that, while all possible options will be listed, some may be crossed out, depending on how strongly the depression is impacting the player. The more difficult the struggle with depression gets, the harder it becomes to make optimal choices to get well. Not only is this a compelling game mechanic, lending extra weight to tough choices, but it is also a powerful metaphor for the experience of depression and how difficult it can be to get help.
Depression Quest features a clean user interface with a faux paper background, replicating the personal feel of a private journal. Each “page” features a single picture to help convey the mood of the scene. The bottom of each page updates you on your character’s wellbeing: how depression is impacting them, whether they are on medication, and whether or not they are attending therapy. This information helps guide your decisions as you seek wellness for your character.
The simplicity of the story keeps it accessible and easy to grasp, making the lessons about depression clear. However, depression is a serious subject, and Depression Quest toes the line of oversimplifying mental illness. Regardless, the story is compelling and emotional, putting you in control of a person who is losing control, and letting you see what it’s like to live life with depression.
I played through the game multiple times to see the different endings. On my initial playthrough, I was unable to get the help I needed, and I left the character worse off than when I started. I was deeply emotionally troubled by this. By playing through again, I was able to make better choices and see that hope and freedom really are available for those struggling with mental illness.
As I grappled with the emotions of Depression Quest, I took comfort in the words of Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (NIV).
Depression Quest is an important and valuable game. If you or someone you love struggles with mental illness, or would like to learn more about the topic, I would recommend this game as a helpful tool for education, understanding, and most importantly, hope.
Chris Clark | Portland | Northern New England