As somebody who currently lives with depression, I found the Depression Quest game refreshing though not without a few minor flaws. I feel like the way that I have experienced depression fit in well with the structure of the website insofar as the options were limited to only 3 or 4 possible choices. The usually-struck-through first option showed a sort of “ideal situation” that was out of the question for reasons of exhaustion or inability to commit fully to the kind of action it required. Though I know that a lot of interactive media and the format of the choose-your-own-adventure storyline are structured similarly in such a way that DQ is by no means revolutionary in terms of form, it felt from a personal perspective not so much as a retreading of old territory but a decently novel approach to a frequently used format.
Not only that, but the structure of the choices, not knowing which ones would be “correct” in the sense that there was no way to “win,” and only having very few because of the aforementioned mental and physical exhaustion, lined up particularly well with my own experience of depression; sometimes, you know what a good choice might be, but every decision feels like a gamble, and sometimes some days are just painfully harder than others for no particular reason.
The narrative elements and the narrator’s own dialogue shared some feelings I have concerning telling other people about it, partly because of its stigma, partly because some people think it’s just a matter of will, and also because it is sometimes just difficult to explain. I do genuinely feel like a burden to friends and family sometimes, and usually it’s easier to just say you’re okay. However, and I know that the prologue mentions that the story is by no means an all-inclusive, universal representation of living with depression, I did think that the narrative lent itself to a certain type of reader. If the ‘player’ who approaches the game has depression and wants to play around with the options in order to see what kind of choices might be possible or what kinds of consequences there are for therapy, medication, etc. then they already have to have access to the internet and the privilege of knowing this game exists.
Furthermore, even though the game does a good job of showing how therapy and medication can help, if a person plays through and realizes this is a good course of action, they may not be able to follow the steps of it due to a lack of health insurance, transportation, monetary resources, family support, etc. The game is definitely positive in terms of providing a means of destigmatizing depression and modeling a particular experience in such a way that an interactor can toy with the choices they have been unable to make before. I even have to wonder whether or not a person with depression might necessarily have the focus required to get through all of the text, because the game is so text-heavy and light on any other types of narrative elements. I wonder how a game about depression might be different if it incorporated more sound, more visuals, or played with space and time beyond merely being presented on a screen. I certainly can’t knock the game for being one of a few (of which I am aware, anyways) games that deal with mental health and discuss it at all. But I feel like the symbolic limitations of language might not be able to articulate certain aspects of depression, though that does seem to be part of the frustration of the protagonist in the story- that they don’t know how to put into words what they feel. I’ve felt that way before as well, but it might be interesting to see a game that incorporates more than a frustration with being unable to articulate a feeling.