Depression Quest is a piece of interactive fiction written by Zoe Quinn and Patrick Lindsey that centers around the premise of, you guessed it, depression. The plot is a very serious portrayal of a person’s internal and external battle with depression. Quinn and Lindsey place the reader as the central character in the piece by directing every event with a ‘you do this’ or ‘you do that.’ By doing this, the authors place the reader into the world of the story and the world of depression; they do everything that they can to try to have the reader truly get the experience of how depression feels like. The ultimate goal of this interactive fiction is to get people to empathize with those who struggle with depression.
The medium of interactive fiction is able to offer much to this goal. As the reader journeys through the narrative, they make choices (as one does in IFs) but these choices affect something very interesting: the narrator’s level of depression. Based on what the reader decides to click on next, the narrator’s depression levels can rise or decrease. There is some sort of unseen scoring or conditional system that keeps track of the decisions and then provides an overview of the narrators current condition at each page.
These depression levels, as said, are based on the decisions that the reader makes throughout the story. Th reader can either lead the narrator into extreme depression or they can help them towards the process of getting better. Often, the options provided to the reader are ambiguous and do not point to a singular direction. The reader might pick one choice thinking that it would be the best option for the situation, but in reality it leads to an even worse situation unintentionally. The tone of the writing and the actions of the narrator also try to point to picking the options that will lead to a greater depression. This is done intentionally to show how depression is an entirely consuming mental illness that is extraordinarily difficult to defeat. In fact, the more depressed the narrator becomes, the fewer options the reader is given to advance the story.
Each option ultimately adds to the narrators depression level or helps the narrator work past their depression. If the reader continuously chooses the options that lead the narrator into depression, the options that will take them out of that depression become harder and harder to obtain. At a certain point, the story (that started off having multiple different branches) becomes entirely linear as the reader can no longer bring the narrator out of their depression. However, even if the reader clicks on all the correct options to help the narrator battle their depression, one wrong click and the narrator can spiral right back into a depressive state. This helps signify the spiraling type of depression that many sufferers experience. Often times things can be going great for someone with depression and then one small thing happens to them to trigger their depression and they are once again in the dark. The options that are most often taken away are the ones that suggest you reach out for help from someone, whether it be your family, friends, or your girlfriend. This helps signify that when depressed, it becomes increasingly difficult to talk about the condition. People who are depressed do not want to put their troubles on others, fearing that they will be rejected by that person. So they let their feelings fester inside of them and ultimately make their depression worse.
The pictures and music that accompany the narrative add to the experience as well. As the reader progresses through the narrator the snapshots above each piece of writing are either crystal clear, entirely fuzzy, or somewhere in between based off of the current depression levels. When the narrator is doing well they are able to see the world more clearly and they have a much more logical sense of how people perceive him and his illness; whereas when the narrator is deeply depressed, the world is fuzzy and foggy. He cannot see anything clearly and he fears that he is being a tremendous bother to those around him. The music works in the same way. When the narrator is doing well, the music (which throughout the entire narrative is a calming classical composition) is crystal clear and relaxing; however, when the narrator is deeply depressed the music crackly, hard to hear at times, and very disrupting to listen to.
According to the authors, there are a total of five different endings. I played through two of them: one where I battled my hardest to overcome depression and one where I succumbed to the depression. The later was honestly a much easier and shorter play through. It required less thought and it was the path that the narration seemed to push the reader towards the entire time. The path where the narrator battles depression is much longer, extensive, and requires a lot more thought. The reader has to think through the possibilities in each decision, which is the most beneficial, and how it could affect the narrator later on.
Parts of each narrative were difficult and painful to read and there was a certain level of pressure felt when making decisions. Despite this piece being fictional it’s interactive elements make it impressively real. Being thrust into the narrative and experiencing depression with the narrator provides an entirely new look on the illness and how it affects individuals. The authors’ use of choice to affect depression was ingenious and really drove home the crippling experience that comes with the illness. They have painted a very real portrait of the illness and it is at the same time tragic and beautiful.