Depression Quest by Zoe Quinn and friends is finished and online and available to play for free (along with the option of making a charitable donation). It is good and I am about to talk about it for a bit, so if you haven't tried it already you should take fifteen minutes out of your life to sort that out.
Depression Quest by Zoe Quinn and friends covers a lot of situations and themes that I think many people in their 20's can relate to. I know I can. I finished high school around the turn of the milennium and, at the time, I imagined Spaced (my then-favourite TV show) would turn out to be a pretty accurate model for how my life would be for the next decade or so - a small but bustling social circle of skint nerds and struggling artists, dragging out their student lifestyles beyond graduation with little sense of accomplishment, but having fun in the process. I remember seeing an interview with Simon Pegg where he said the core theme of the show is this modern phenomenon of your 20's being an extension of your teenage years; I remember seeing the interview, but I forget what he said exactly. He probably made some profound-sounding observation about labour economics and the way employment patterns have changed since the 70's, when our parents were going through the same stage of life. Maybe something about how advertising companies work to market this child-like state of young adulthood to us, cultivating a demographic that marries childish consumer interests with an adult level of income (hint: if you are wondering which next-gen games console to pre-order later this year, this is you).
I think most of Midnight Resistance's contributors have been through periods of working less-than-desirable jobs, not knowing where their life is going, and wondering if they've somehow missed the boat (except Sam obviously, being 12 years old). Looking back now as I approach 30, with things finally falling into some kind of order, I'd say the crumbling social life and economic nomadism of my 20's was less fun than Spaced suggested. When we inaugurated Husktober last year we sounded quite light-hearted about the subject, but I think we approached it as a form of gallows humour - if you are a teenager reading these articles about the crippling ennui of young adulthood, try to understand that you may well go through it yourself a few years from now. I see it a lot among young indie game developers too. One of the first GDC sessions I ever went to was Michael Todd's thing about making games while dealing with depression (see here), and I remember looking around the room and seeing a sea of heads unconsciously nodding with recognition. It was a pretty chilling moment, although it did help me feel a bit more 'at home' among all those strangers.
The thing I noticed while playing through Depression Quest is that many of my decisions didn't seem to connect with my behaviour in real life. I understood what my character was going through - I have, in the past, had cause to sit down with a doctor and learn about how to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy myself out of downward spirals - but I felt strangely detached while putting theory into practice. It's one thing to click on a hyperlink to open up to your virtual lover that you feel crippled with feelings of angst and alienation, but quite another to do it in real life. This sense of helplessness is expressed in the game through the way your choice of options are selectively prohibited based on your current mood, but I was willing to assume that there were some positive endings in there, and it follows that I just needed to act out 'best practice' behaviours to get there. It's difficult to frame a story like Depression Quest as a game without inviting this game-like attitude.
But then, perhaps that's really the point? To take the CBT angle as an example, my doctrine is that if you get home from work every night feeling run down, one of the worst things you can do is crack open a beer and watch TV. It might sound backwards to a lot of people, but that's how it is - if your daily routine is putting you in a downward spiral, one of the most effective first steps is to throw your routine out the window, do something unusual, and disrupt your cognitive cycles before they drag you any further down. Perhaps the reason I feel disconnected from my character while playing is because I'm used to triggering that sense of disconnected decision-making in real life? I've trained myself quite well to spot patterns of negative thoughts as they form, and then consciously block them out and perform remedial actions on auto-pilot instead. And the more I think about it in hindsight, the more I can relate to my actions in the game.
I did pretty well in Depression Quest, and came away feeling quite pleased with my results. Part of me wonders whether I'm outside the target audience for the game - perhaps it's more intended for people who have no idea what it's like to deal with depression, or as a space for current sufferers to explore different choices and hopefully learn that small, positive steps can make a difference? But... ahh, like in the crowd at GDC, it's nice enough just to relate to someone.
Depression Quest. Good stuff.