Sawbuck Gamer

Depression Quest

The Great Black Wave

Depression Quest is a fight to maintain hope.

By Emily Gordon • March 11, 2013

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap game ($10 or less).

Some games delight you and activate the nostalgia parts of your brain, some games are there to take you away from your day-to-day life and engage you, and some games are just gorgeous excuses to beat up monsters. This game is none of those. Depression Quest challenges players’ assumptions by leading them through the text-based adventure of a person who is struggling with depression.

The goal of Depression Quest is twofold—to make people suffering from depression feel less alone, and to give people not afflicted with depression a sense of what it feels like. It’s not fun. There are no graphics, aside from Polaroids that accompany the storyline, and a spare, haunting piano tune provides the only music. Otherwise, it’s just you and your choices. As you progress through the storyline, your performance at work gets worse and worse, your girl/boyfriend (the game stays intentionally ambiguous) feels alienated, and you become unable to make certain choices for yourself. The game grows claustrophobic and hopeless. Even people who often choose to be “bad” in games might have a hard time continually forcing the hero to shun family members and refuse therapy. This experience is harrowing but loaded with portent. My protagonist eventually stabilized (call it the “good” ending), and it was exhausting. Maybe Depression Quest isn’t a fun, stress-relieving way to spend an hour, but it’s certainly enlightening, and it transcends the bounds of its form.

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18 Responses to “The Great Black Wave”

  1. duwease says:

    Oy, I thought a game had to have DRM to make me this depressed..

  2. Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

    The ‘Just Walk It Off’ DLC will be a critical and commercial failure.

  3. boardgameguy says:

    where is my option to feel better by triumphantly winning a dance contest?

    still, this is a really neat idea for a game.

  4. ChicaneryTheYounger says:

    Okay, two things:
    1. This brought back a lot of painful feelings, and a lot of mistakes I made. I got over without meds or therapy, but it took years and several close calls.
    2. It’s pretty obvious Alex is your girlfriend, what with it saying girlfriend a lot and using female pronouns. There’s no ambiguity to it.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Yeah, I saw this game around but i have no interest in playing because, well, depression isn’t fun. I could see how it might be neat or useful if you haven’t experienced it, and from what I gather it’s a pretty realistic/powerful portrayal. but I’m gonna sit this one out. I appreciate the idea a lot though. Not to get all preachy but I think a lot of the time mental disorders can go undiagnosed for a long time or people malign them. “Get over it” doesn’t help anyone, and I think that the whole games as art thing has potential to be a really eye-opening experience for some people because they actually go through what people suffering from these thigns go through, to a small extent. Granted, it could easily become exploitative and crass but it sounds like this one is very thoughtful.

      I think there was a recentish game about gender dysphoria that was also supposed to be really good. Good job, game devs. Good job.

  5. WayofThePun says:

    That was a genuinely profound experience. I’m glad I caught this link.

  6. OrangeLazarus says:

    This game has been following me around.

  7. aklab says:

    Wow, that was an experience. Perfect soundtrack. Seeing the unavailable choices crossed out in red was surprisingly affecting. 

    • boardgameguy says:

      agreed.  i joked earlier, but then played it through.  it was a real eye opener to see how depression permeates so deeply into the fabric of one’s life and thoughts.

  8. mattgee says:

    So…yeah.  I’m 23, diagnosed with depression, on medication for it.  It’s stunning how accurate this was.

    I probably shouldn’t have played it.

  9. ShrikeTheAvatar says:

    Brilliant and touching, and very affecting emotionally.  

    I think I’m going to go back and donate.

  10. The_Misanthrope says:

     “My life is nothing but pressure. All pressure. This pressure is like a
    heaviness. It’s always on top of me, this heaviness. It’s always there
    since I’m a kid. Other people wake up in the morning, ‘A new day! Ah, up
    and at ’em!’ I wake up, the heaviness is waiting for me nice. Sometimes
    I even talk to it. I say [adopts cheerful voice] ‘Hi, heaviness!’ and
    the heaviness looks back at me, [in an ominous growl] ‘Today you’re
    gonna get it good. You’ll be drinking early today.’”-Rodney Dangerfield

  11. beema says:

    I’m currently suffering with severe depression and anxiety, so it makes me very glad to see something like this that brings attention to the issue. I don’t think I could bring myself to play through it, though.

  12. PaganPoet says:

    I honestly saw a lot of myself in this game, which is kind of disconcerting, I’ve never entertained the idea that I might be depressed.

  13. So yeah, that was pretty intense, but also wonderful. I’m definitely going to share it with some people I know who are sensitive to these things.

    While I wouldn’t consider myself depressed and don’t experience basically any of the emotions described, I do engage in a lot of the pointless, cyclically self-sabotaging behaviors and have days (or stretches of days) when I’m just totally useless. I’ve always thought of those stretches as a (perhaps suboptimal) coping mechanism rather than as inherently a problem, though… I think my approach is to really commit to being mopey and unproductive until I get so frustrated with myself that I can’t help but finally get off my ass and get to work.

    I’ve done basically nothing useful since taking the bar exam 12 days ago (well, I’ve watched the entirety of House of Cards, and now the first season and a half of West Wing), and I finally feel like I’m starting to reach the boiling point where I’m ready to get stuff done. I guess this might be something like a depression analogue to structured procrastination.

  14. kippkate says:

    Really interesting experience. 

    Puts me in mind of a browser game I played a while ago at http://www.dreamsofyourlife.com/
    It asks you questions about your life and your connections to other people. Really unsettled me, but in an involving way. Had to go and hug my flatmate afterwards. 

  15. Eco1970 says:

    That was excellent. Quite hard work, even though I tried to choose all of the ‘good’ decisions.

    I did find a chuckle in the game, though. There’s one bit where the summary npanels at the bottom say that all the CBT sessions with the therapist are making you feel much better. I know it means Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, but CBT also means Cock n Ball Torture.