I wish I’d had Depression Quest when I was first diagnosed.
The game’s available today. It’s not fun to play. You need to play it. You should do so immediately, because while I’m about to talk vaguely enough about it here that no plot points will be disturbed, it will vastly lessen the impact of an incredible and necessary experience.
There’s not much of a story behind my diagnosis or my quick transition from hating my one ever counselling session to getting a fluoxetine prescription. I can’t even tell you the circumstances that led me to getting help. They say memory loss isn’t one of the side effects of SSRIs, but the whole prelude to taking them is thankfully pretty blurry now. There was no graphic self harm or suicide threat like you see in every kind of media on the subject. There’s just a kid that’s sad for some reason and never gets better. A kid who doesn’t really talk to people because there’s just too much effort and a kid who doesn’t find a reason to get out of bed other than obligation.
I can’t tell you any stories because there aren’t any. What I can tell you is how it felt. Depression is a debilitating, crushing despair made all the worse for a lack of understanding from others. When you ask someone with depression why they aren’t able to integrate better or motivate themselves it’s like you’re asking why someone can’t shake your hand while they’re tied up. They probably want to be nice, to involve themselves socially and enthusiastically, but they’re being restrained.
I needed Depression Quest for two reasons. I needed something I could show anyone without a clue what I was going through. The choice that this game makes about displaying every option available to a regular person but crossing them off and leaving you only with things in your comfort zone is effective. On the surface it’s a neat joke about role-playing game tropes, as if you could come back and play again when you roll a character with the correct “not having an emotionally draining mental illness” stats and breeze through every problem. It works here because you don’t get that luxury in life. Your brain is the worst and it doesn’t get to start the game over.
The game does a great job of saying to someone that’s never been through the illness that, even though the option to do anything you want is there and you’re aware of it, you just aren’t capable. This is a gamified version of what it’s like, but it’s basically accurate to how it feels. Knowing that you can be better and actually doing the things that will make you better feels like an insurmountable climb.
But I needed Depression Quest foremost to show me that, gradually, every choice that I made to try and get better would result in me actually getting better. If that sounds too obvious, as if I’m recounting your introduction to basic logic, you probably haven’t gone through depression yourself. The motivation you need to affect any sense of change in your life is completely outside your capability. It’s too much, to break from your rut, even then you likely wouldn’t know how to start.
In theory “get better already” would be great advice, but it’s not possible without knowing exactly what to do.
Depression Quest breaks down your forward momentum from the lowest point to developing a healthy mental state into smaller chunks. It changes your goals from “immediately get better without any guidance” to “do one of these gradually unfolding steps at a time” and before you realise it you’re already there. It does this without you even initially realising, you just get down a path and steamroll toward active life enjoyment.
In the same vein as Anna Anthropy’s Dys4ia made an effective attempt at getting players to emulate going through hormone replacement therapy, something that likely they’ll never have to deal with, Depression Quest serves as much as a tool for understanding and acceptance as it does an impeccable gaming one. Spare an hour to play it and ensure you’ve some time after that to decompress. It will make you a better person.
Amended disclosure (August 2016): Then-EIC Ian Miles Cheong contributed a donation to the development of Depression Quest.