Depression is a total asshole. It’s a selfish asshole, hogging you to itself and absorbing all your mental and physical energy. It’s a lying asshole, making you believe things that aren’t true while inhibiting any accurate perception of reality. And it’s an indiscriminate asshole, caring not for your age, gender or place in society. Worst of all: you can know all of these things, and yet still be taken advantage of at every turn. What an asshole!
Weaponry does exist to combat this asshole, though oftentimes it seems like it doesn’t. Professional help is readily available, but not always easy to ask for. Friends and family are, paradoxically, even more ready to help, yet can come across as sanctimonious liars to the afflicted. This brings me to the reason for this post, the interactive fiction game Depression Quest: a sensitive and thoughtfully crafted work of art I would recommend to anyone with direct or indirect contact with the disease.
Maybe you suffer from depression. Depression Quest is for you: it can arm you with descriptions of your experiences that don’t come easily when you’re having them. Show it to your loved ones if you don’t feel they understand.
Maybe you don’t suffer from depression. Depression Quest is for you: it incisively portrays what it feels like, with all the hopelessness and disconnect that comes along with it. Understanding is the first step towards being able to help more effectively. And it’s difficult to understand! But making your way through an interactive representation of depression’s emotional/psychological quicksand can push you along the path to enlightenment.
Maybe you suffer from depression without realising it. Depression Quest is for you, and in this respect it was definitely for me. When I first played its initial online release, I was in a very dark place personally, and at the time, I thought the tortured post-production process of my movie Ghost Shark 2 was responsible. That despair-pit swallowed up work and creative projects, threatened friendships and ended a romance, to say nothing of the damage it did to my self-worth and physical health. But none of this was caused by Ghost Shark, much as I desperately wanted a scapegoat that tangible. Depression Quest helped me to identify patterns in my behaviour, relationships and mental well-being that had been around long before I decided to make any silly movie. The lethargy; the lack of enthusiasm for all that was once held dear; the crying oneself to occasional sleep over perceived worthlessness; the constant lying about all of the above: it was all there. The writing was generalised enough to apply to everyone, and specific enough to hit upon uncomfortable truths I had been wilfully ignoring. The brutal simplicity of some of the game’s mechanics - blotting out potential actions that depression renders you unable to accomplish - connected better than any waiting-room pamphlet or online FAQ, and even the simple self-awareness that emerged proved extremely helpful. It was a first step in a neverending process that takes constant effort, and though I still don’t ask for help as much as I should, at least I’m a little more self-aware.
Depression Quest had its appropriately unassuming, free Steam launch yesterday. Accompanying that launch, the game’s chief architect Zoe Quinn (a hero of mine for a multitude of reasons) wrote a blog post about its uncomfortable, coincidental proximity to the death of Robin Williams - a highly publicised death almost certainly contributed to by depression. The decision to go live with the launch was ultimately driven by the game's ability to help others, which feels right. I was hesitant to post this article myself, for the same reasons Quinn hovered over the launch button, but you know what? Fuck that. It shouldn't even be a question. There is no bad taste when it comes to doing positive things. And sharing Depression Quest is a positive thing. It's been used by therapists, teachers and patients alike, touching lives in a profound manner. That the game and its creator have histories of moronic dickheads attacking them online is only further testament to their goodness.
Obviously, for all the praise I heap upon it, Depression Quest ain’t no cure - such a thing doesn't exist. Seeking (and, crucially, allowing yourself) help from others is still absolutely vital. But it’s a poignant, disarmingly well-written catalyst for communication and self-realisation, and it may just prompt you to get that help you need. I'll leave you with Quinn's sign-off:
Please, please, please take care of yourselves. Tell the people in your life you love them. Don’t stop pushing for more understanding and better care of those battling mental illness.
The game is available for free/pay what you want in the following places:
I love you all.