The Illusion of Choice: Depression Quest

I suffer from depression. I’ve written an article on it already, which you may or may not have read. I’m saying this upfront to assure you that I’m going to try to avoid talking about my specific experiences, but more about the game and depression in general.

Depression Quest is textual game, one born of words and musical cues that duck beneath the consciousness to pervade your mood, not your mind. There’s no huge quest to undergo: you’re not going to rescue a prince from a dragon or discover a lost treasure. You’re going to attempt to live with a mental illness and it’ll be the most difficult quest you’ll ever take on.

Let me begin by saying that you can win the game, in a way. There is a form of win condition. You can cope with depression and manage to keep up a romantic, social and work life. The happiest ending is one where you can live the normal life that so many people take as granted. You can keep a relationship going, isn’t that impressive? You can even make social gatherings! These are your victories. What you do every day without a single thought is the epic reward to be gathered by simply coping.

You can lose the game too. The dissolution of a love affair and the loss of friends. You can lose your job and find your only solace in life a cat and you can even reject the simple love of a pet, because you know you can’t stand being responsible for the life of another. You’ll finish the game, alone. That’s your game over. The solitary life of someone who can’t cope with the illness foisted on them by a strange caprice of fate.

It paradoxically escalates downwards. The only mechanic of the game, barring the choose-your-own-adventure progression, is the lockdown of your choices. Each decision you make, even the decisions that seem emotionally healthy at first, will lock out choices later. You skip meeting some friends and you’ll find later that you no longer have the option to attend, mirroring the difficulty of facing the people you’ve abandoned. You’ll ask your girlfriend to cover for you at a party, or you skip a day of work, or you don’t go to the shop to buy food. Then later, your options are struck through. The longer the illness continues and the longer you allow it to take control, the fewer options you’ll have when you want to come back from the brink. It’s the most elegant description of depression that I’ve ever come across: it’s an illness that restricts free will. You know it’s healthy to go out and socialise, but the illness won’t let you and neither will the game.

It’s elegantly brutal. The game is purportedly the life of a sufferer, but it isn’t and don’t let it convince you that’s the case. It’s depression itself. Your life will continue, but you can’t stop and you can’t make the decisions you should and it’s the game, and depression, that will stand in the way.

It’s free, you know. It can be accessed here. If you know someone with depression, you owe it to no-one to play this game. But it might help you understand what they live with each day. The choice, for now, is yours. Enjoy that luxury.

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