Zoe Quinn’s interactive fiction game Depression Quest is an immersive narrative exploring what living with depression is like. It is formatted like a choose-your-own-adventure story in which you play as the character with depression. Different options for how you want to proceed are provided on each page of the narrative in the form of hypertext links. The game also features polaroid style images on each page along with atmospheric music. These visual and audio features react to the choices you make as your character either gets better or worse in your depression.
Before you begin the game, the introduction page informs you of the sensitive nature of the game and provides resources if you need support or help. This page also explains the mission of the game being to raise awareness for both survivors of depression and those who know someone living with depression. In the opening paragraph of this page it states: “This game is not meant to be a fun or lighthearted experience.” This is important to understand the goal of Depression Quest because living with depression is not a fun or lighthearted experience–it is brutal and dark. It also reveals how the purpose of the game is to fully submerge someone in the experience of living with depression through the interactive functions.
When the game begins, the player is given little information about who they are playing as. All that is given is that “You are a mid-twenties human being” living with depression, however, this character does not yet know it is depression they are dealing with. There is also exposition provided about the other characters and social settings that will appear throughout the game. While these details might seem mundane, the point of them is to reflect everyday interactions and relationships that are impacted by depression.
The player is given different options to choose from in order to move forward in the game. Some choices will be crossed out and not available to be chosen in order to represent how depression impacts someone’s ability to do what are usually thought of as simple tasks. The status of the character’s wellbeing is represented through this as well as some of the design choices. Each page of the game is accompanied by polaroid style photographs with a static animation overlay. The colors desaturate and the static increases as the character’s depression worsens. Also reacting to the wellbeing of the character is the atmospheric music that gets glitchier and more unsettling as the condition of depression worsens. The player can tell the status of wellbeing by referring to the three bars at the bottom of each page that reflect how depressed their character is, whether they are in therapy or not, and if they are taking medication or not. These design choices all work together to show how the severity of one’s depression can make life seem dull and pointless.
The epilogue page of the game is one of the most important in understanding the overall message of the work. Here it states that “Like depression itself, Depression Quest does not have an end really. There is no neat resolution to depression, and it was important to us that Depression Quest's own resolution reflect that.” Depression is an ongoing battle that does not have one solution and not everything works the same for everyone. Each and every person that struggles with depression will have their own difficult journeys in finding what kind of support works for them. Depression Quest works because it pulls the player into just a glimpse of what living with depression can be like. It also works to raise awareness and donations to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Lydia Osmer wrote this entry for Dr. Melinda White’s Digital Literature (ENGL 693) course at the University of New Hampshire in the Spring semester of 2021.