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Why Depression Quest Matters

Posted on Thursday, August 14 @ 13:00:00 PST by Jessica_Vazquez
When the news of Robin William's death broke this week I was in the middle of listening to his stand-up which was on a comedy playlist I often listen to while working on computers at my day job. It's never easy when someone as iconic, talented, and charismatic as he was dies, let alone commits suicide. I took a break to let the news settle in and turned to social media, joining in on the collective solace shared by so many of us who were impacted by Robin's contribution to the world. Meanwhile, I noticed a few tweets from Zoe Quinn announcing her game Depression Quest had just been Greenlit on Steam:
We literally got the final 100% approval from Steam right as the news broke and were already planning on launching today but now... — Zoë ʻGRANOSʼ Quinn (@TheQuinnspiracy) August 11, 2014
I can understand Zoe's hesitancy to have her game launch the same day one of the world's most talented entertainers succumbed to the very affliction the game's subject matter deals with, but I don't believe it was a bad omen at all. Robin Williams was a man who suffered from something that many people deal with everyday. He lived his life in the spotlight but in the end there are things that are capable of festering in someone's mind that only they are aware of and no amount of money or fame can lessen its impact. I am not saying that Depression Quest is a guaranteed preventative measure to suicide or depression. But what I am saying is that it gives a tangible example of a condition that is commonly misunderstood by those who have not experienced it themselves.

The game isn't very long, but it is clearly coming from a group of individuals who know about depression and understand how it can affect every aspect of someone's life. The text-based adventure is accompanied by Polaroids that briefly depict the setting as you progress through the game accompanied by music that fits the mood. One of the first choices you are faced with is deciding to go to a party at your significant other's house or flake out due to your anxiety. As someone who has dealt with extreme and mild forms of social anxiety over the course of her life, this portion of the game hit close to home.  

Although my social anxiety is mild now and I have people in my life who I'm comfortable spending time with, there have been times in the past where even going to parties with people I've known for years has caused inner panic. So when one of the options after arriving at the party is to hide in a room until you're "ready" to rejoin the festivities, that's the one I chose, even around friends I've known for years. It's a feeling I've never had the opportunity expressing in words, but there it was written out on a page.  
I have played through Depression Quest twice so far. The first time I played through, I choose all of the options that were the most self-destructive like refusing to talk about my feelings with individuals close to me, not seeking out therapy, and shying away from social situations. By choosing this path, fewer options were available to me when dealing with the situations in the game that triggered anxiety and depression.

When you're faced with decisions in Depression Quest they'll oftentimes be one highlighted in red and crossed out, even though it's the most sane thing to do in the given situation. Having these choices on display but unavailable to the player demonstrates that although there are logical healthy ways to deal with certain high stress or everyday social situations, people with depression and anxiety do not often choose those options because they are not on their emotional radar. The more you shy away from social interaction, refuse help, and refuse to discuss your feelings in Depression Quest, the more limited your agency. The more you seek out help, the more choices you have in high-stress situations.

At one point during my playthrough I had rejected help and social interaction so much that there were about five options available during a key choice in the game and only one of them wasn't crossed out: the most self-destructive option. It's very accurate to what happens when people spiral into a deep depression and their fear and anxieties take hold of them. They weigh out all the outcomes of a situation and cross off the ones that make the most sense because they can't follow through on them.

This isn't something people do rationally and that's the mistake many people make when they look at someone who commits suicide and says they are selfish. For anyone who sees suicide as a cowardly act or doesn't believe there is any distinguishing factor that separates sadness from depression, be thankful that you don't know how it feels. If you have a cold, break a limb, or get a scrape on your arm, people can visibly see there's something wrong with you.  When depression imbeds itself into your psyche, the wounds it inflicts remain unseen to those around you. Maybe someone close to you will see the signs and say something or something will happen in your life to bring you out of your funk, but not everyone is that lucky.  

I am very thankful that Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey, and Isaac Schankler brought this game back to Steam Greenlight after having to take it down do to cyber harassment. It was a brave thing to do to stand up to critics and continue forward with their vision. The result is a piece of art that can help educate people and even help people find a way to seek help they would otherwise never have sought out. I've known people who committed and attempted suicide and I've known people recently who have had friends pass away due to suicide. Depression is the most deadly silent killer there is. Depression Quest may not be the ultimate answer to ending it, but it sure as hell does an amazing job of showing how it affects the people who suffer from it. It is available now on Steam for free.

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