(Disclosure: This was published both in a twitlonger & on a previous site, archived and republished with permission)
First things first: Depression Quest is made in Twine. If you are unfamiliar with it, Twine is a Framework for writing Choose Your Own Adventure-type stories, or “Interactive Stories”, as it calls them itself, and allowing them to be read as .html in a browser.
It’s easy to use and quite powerful at what it is doing, allowing some optional features that can bring a well-made work closer to a Visual Novel than a book ever could.
However, at the end of the day, it’s made to tell stories with minimal player input and the best “gaming” it can offer, after lots of work, is a mediocre Text-Adventure-experience. Nonetheless, I’ve had some great fun with other people’s works in Twine.
Now for this specific game.
Depression Quest, as the name implies, puts you into the mind of a person suffering from one of humanities most common mental problems (In fact, a vast majority of adults today suffer from the type of depression commonly known under the unscientific term “Burnout”). The game is set to a repetitive sad tune — no doubt intended to put you into the right mindset, and a small number of grainy pictures and three even more grainy comments on your current status (How bad your depression is, if you are visiting an expert, if you are taking medication).
Almost every page opens up with a description of how terrible your mood during the current scene is (usually very) and ends in a few options. Some of which are not accessible if you are too depressed for them. This makes sense insofar that a depressed person might not be able to pursue certain paths of action, or even see them, depending on the strength of the sickness.
Depression, after all, isn’t so much strong sadness, as a medium amount of sadness that eats at your motivation like a cancer.
But for some reason the author felt the need to put in an option that the player will never actually be able to access (including a few highly motivating ones) unless cheating, which I haven’t tried, but which can be done by choosing a version of Twine that displays the game’s current variables in the browsers address bar. In my opinion, this seriously hurts the games message of how much a struggle dealing with depressions is.
You wouldn’t openly place a field to enter the god-mode cheat at the bottom of Dark Souls either, would you?
A further problem with the “gameplay” itself is that it requires a specific path to end up in a situation where you can actually get people to make you seek out help. While many depressed people really don’t get into the specific circumstances required for the way to a better future, it seems weird that in this story, the people around you care enough to make you seek out professional help, but will stop caring just from one or two missteps.
A specific problem I had with the in-game events is that the decision to adopt a cat doesn’t seem to really slow down the further decent into depression by the protagonist. In truth, a pet really helps, both by forcing you to actively do something —caring for the pet, instead of wallowing in your misery— and by giving you warmth and love without all the bullshit that can surround human interaction.
Then there’s also the point in the game where the protagonist is afraid of going to a therapist, because the therapist might love them. This seems weird, since any moderately intelligent person knows that the therapist won’t. Instead, a depressed person would search another excuse (which at least can happen in-game under some circumstances), probably putting it of until some unspecified day in the future or telling him/herself that s/he doesn’t need help.
Anyway. After a few dozen pages like this, you end up in an epilogue that implies that everything continues in the exact same manner it did the last few pages before — successful or not.
That’s exactly the thing a depressed person secretly suspects about their life.
Since it needs specific circumstances to arrive at a good end, a casual reader will end up at an epilogue in which everything continues being shit for the main character.
Way to send an uplifting, thoughtful message there, author.
I give this game the following points:
Sound: 3/10 Repetitive single piece, but evokes the right mood
Graphics: (Pictures and design, really) 2.5/10 Artsy grain effects on amateur photos.
Gameplay: 2/10 Almost inexistent due to the nature of the medium chosen. Designed in a way that would make people go “only play with a walkthrough at hand” if it were a more traditional video game
Story and Writing: 5/10 Some decent enough work here. Wordy in a nice way. Touches on something important in a verbose way, but feels like it was a draft that just got finalized, instead of going through several revisions to reach the quality expected of a short work trying to sending such a powerful message.
This “game” is put in an unfitting format and barely adjusted to fit in it.
Depression Quest could have been a powerful book written in a journal-like style. Instead the author chose to destroy what it could be for reasons I have my suspicions on but do not fit in the context of a review.