Capsule Review: Depression Quest

A short Twine game in which you play as a character living with depression and experience a series of vignettes which apparently take place over several months. After reading through a scene you are given a list of options and choose how to respond to the situation. Your choices affect your mental state and your mental state affects your choices - some options are displayed but unselectable if you aren’t in a condition to act on them. There are some similarities to Alter Ego, but with a much smaller scope. Your character and life situation are not customizable and the focus is squarely on depression.

While your choices will have a few lasting effects (you can’t choose to reveal that you’re on medication unless you’ve chosen to go on medication, for example) you’ll still go through mostly the same series of vignettes regardless. This can make some aspects of the game seem disingenuous - with certain choices, your mental health indicator can be implying that most days you can’t even get out of bed, while the story text indicates that you’re still regularly going to work. There are a few other aspects of the game that feel a bit unpolished - your girlfriend Alex is referred to as both “she”/“her” and “they”/“them” with no explanation or clear pattern, there are a few typos and maybe 20% more text than there really should be, and the downloadable version does not make good use of screen real-estate.

The story is not especially complex, but it more or less succeeds in what it set out to do - illustrate some common experiences of living with depression, both so that people without depression can better understand what it’s like and so that people with depression can be reminded they are not alone. More successful is the illustration of what strategies are helpful and which are self-defeating, which is backed by the game’s mechanics. If you make unhealthy choices, you may not have the energy or courage to make healthy ones later, showing the way depression can spiral downward. This aspect of the game can make it a therapeutic tool - the ideal case is that someone sees the effects of the choices in-game and so makes healthy choices in real life. The ending doesn’t give much closure, but this is intentional as depression is not something that can be conquered, cured, and dismissed. But it is something you can learn to live with.

Depression Quest is intended to spread awareness rather than provide fun or challenge, and it’s certainly not for everyone. But it’s quick and free, and people living with depression - or people with loved ones doing so - may well get something out of it. I did. I played it on a whim one day when I was feeling down and unmotivated and hadn’t been able to write anything. It was oddly cathartic and afterward I felt better and got some writing done.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished a playthrough.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

You can get it or learn more here.