Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Depression Quest--Or What It's Like To Have A (Specific Form Of) Depression

Depression Quest is a game about depression. For some people.

The story centers around an average twenty-something male struggling with depression while trying to balance work, family, and relationships. The depression lessens or intensifies based on decisions the player makes (do you accept therapy or decide against it? Do you spend time with your girlfriend or stay home alone?)

The game is an exercise in despair. From the melancholy and increasingly dissonant soundtrack, to the often hopeless-seeming situations, to its exploration of the psychology of the protagonist, this is a game which attempts to explain what depression is like--or at least a certain form of it.

The game's narrative is structured so that numerous people with Depression can relate to it. However, it at times risks becoming too all-encompassing. Quotes like "there are some days you hardly feel like getting out of bed" can apply to numerous people, not just with depression. Everyone has bad days, and certain parts of Depression Quest can seem like its simply showing those bad days and calling them symptoms of depression.

But what differentiates Depression Quest, and depression in general, is the sheer, constant onslaught of mental, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion. There is a palpable sense of entrapment, a lack of energy to do anything besides simply be, even if it is to the detriment of your work and social life, that is so familiar to so many with depression. "insurmountable", "unmotivated", and "tired" are but a few of the adjectives at the game's disposal. Indeed, the exhaustion is so intense that there are many times where options one knows to be the best options are crossed out--the character cannot take those options because they simply do not have the energy and morale to attempt them.

Playing through the game, I and many others attest to its power to make one feel there, truly suffering, and truly empty. Everyone has bad days, but in Depression Quest the bad days are the only days, and that is very true to life.

For some people.

For other people depression comes and goes. It manifests not in a constant entropy but in starts and dramatic stops, or in certain moments, or certain triggers. Depression Quest's depression does not seek to encompass those, and should not be viewed as an exploration of all depression, only some forms.

The main thing to remember about Depression Quest is that in addition to demonstrating only a singular form of depression, it advocates only a singular treatment. The depression in Depression Quest is not caused by trauma, not caused by grief or a sudden change in lifestyle. The depression in Depression Quest has biomedical cause--it is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, which while a true cause for many people with depression, is not the sole cause of depression, and should not be viewed as such. The solutions in Depression Quest are very generic forms of medication and therapy. "You are not currently seeing a therapist" and "you are not currently taking medication" are considered absolute negative states in this game. To "win" the game, one must accept medication and therapy and pursue them fully.

While for a great many cases medication and therapy are good solutions, they do not apply for all people. Some people have very adverse reactions to medication, or find nothing useful out of therapy. Again, each person's Depression is a uniquely personal thing, and to ameliorate someone's depression necessitates knowing the person themselves, not simply throwing them at medication and therapy and seeing what sticks.

Still, the game serves to illustrate depression to people who may not understand it, even if it does not illustrate all kinds. It's a game I feel deserves to be shown to others, to explain to them just what it's like to have depression.

For some people.

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