Depression Quest is a narrative game that attempts to give the player insight into the mind of someone living with depression. Unfortunately, if clinical depression is heavy cream, this game is skim milk.
You play as a twenty-something going through several months of life. You are presented with a block of text and sometimes have the ability to make choices at the bottom of it. You also have three stat blocks that tell you how depressed your character is and how (or if) you are progressing through psycho and chemo therapy. There is very little gameplay, even as far as interactive fictions are concerned. While the game does have many unique events and lines of dialogue, the choices that you make in-game do very little to leave an impact. Each string ends in you attending a family holiday meal where your overbearing mother asks how you’re doing. In the worst ending, you are severely depressed and choose to excuse yourself to the bathroom. You have broken up with your girlfriend, but you still have the support of your family and online friends. You still have a job. You still have your life. In the best ending, you are still depressed but maybe your girlfriend will move in eventually. Therapy isn’t that bad, and there is no mention of side effects from your antidepressants.
This game barely grazes the effects of depression. If its intention was to educate about the disease, it fails at even that. It is too easy to make the “right” choices. Go to therapy. Keep taking your meds. Tell your girlfriend. Talk to your friends. Don’t spend all day in bed. No matter what you do, there are no positive outcomes as if to day that there is no happiness at all. It is very unrelatable, and it seems like the writer of the game has never actually experienced depression. Rather, this was a game developed to capitalize on the media attention depression has been getting recently. It’s as if Zoe Quinn went to WebMD and read the symptoms of depression before deciding to make a game of it.
In terms of mechanics, the game did well. Even though you’re only progressing through hyperlinks and there is no back button, there weren’t glitches. However, I really disliked the music. Three minor chords on the piano does not a soundtrack make. Ideally, the music would have changed to reflect the character’s mood. Minimum, there should have been an option to turn it off. The visuals were lacking and when they were there, it was a series of three “artsy” polaroid style photos related to the theme. The advertised 40k words weren’t proofread well enough, as typos took me out of the experience. The text itself is not immersive or engaging. If it were written like a diary entry, that could be engaging. There is no semblance of a spirit in this writing, not even of the alogia that can occur in cases of chronic depression. The opportunities to explain the biological side of depression through the therapist character is not taken, leaving those without an understanding of it in the dark. Due to the lack of plot movement, this game is not replayable at all.
This game reads like a pedantic fanfiction rather than any serious attempt at writing, and leaves the player with many different experiences. For someone who is or was struggling with depression, this game can be downright offensive. For someone supporting a depressed friend or family member, this is hopeless. For someone completely untouched by depression, it’s boring and misleading.
Depression Quest is a fantastic way to misunderstand depression.