Depression Quest is a game about that dark cloud that hovers over your life – and unfortunately, through no fault of its own, the game and gaming culture at large has its own dark cloud.
Depression Quest was developed by Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey and Isaac Schankler and it’s a story based on Quinn and Lindsey’s own fight with depression. It’s an interactive story where you try to live day-to-day with depression and try to cope with it. It’s very mundane in a way, but that’s what makes the game work. Depression is a very mundane threat that people fail to take seriously and this game really highlights what it’s like to have it.
Every page turn is a vignette of a new day, where new social situations and struggles present themselves. You’re presented with a list of choices to respond to these situations, but alas, every day is also a struggle to do anything. Based on how depressed you are, the more social and logical choices get closed off. If things get particularly bad, you’ll be stuck in a spiral, only able to take choices that perpetuate your problems.
And the writing is just. Really relatable. In some ways, I’ve seen my attitude as “oh haha I’m depressed” like a lot of Twitter nihilists post. And then I played this and it’s really kinda set in that, no, I guess I actually am depressed. What hit me particularly hard is your character’s relationship with work and how their own mom sees it. Your character is stuck at a meaningless, soul-sucking job that was originally intended to help them get by for a while, but it seems increasingly likely that they’re going to be stuck there for a long time. Your character tries to work on their own projects but their day job and their own issues keep getting in the way, all while their mom judges them for being stuck in a bad job, not recognizing that they also hate it and it makes them feel miserable. Fuck.
There are some divergences and choices that open up depending on how you navigate this life. Most importantly, you can seek the help of a therapist regardless of how ashamed you feel and take medication, even if it has debilitating side effects. I followed these choices and expanded my social network with friends and a nice new kitten, leading to the closest thing to a “golden ending” this game has to offer. An important takeaway though is that even in this golden ending, the bad days don’t go away. As a whole, life just becomes more manageable – but it’s better than the worst case scenario.
Speaking of which, Depression Quest offers multiple endings. I do not wish to play on because after seeing this ray of sunshine, I don’t want to plummet myself down to something worse.
Depression Quest is a short time and I really recommend playing it. Of course, just know that it’s tied to a lot of heavy subject matter.
And well. Speaking of heavy subject matter.
Unless you haven’t stepped deep into gaming culture, it’s hard to hear about Depression Quest or Zoe Quinn without Gamergate coming to mind. Gamergate was a reactionary movement that started when Quinn was accused of being in a relationship with a journalist that gave them a positive review. By the way, that’s not even true at all, so the core premise of this is already fucked.
Gamergate started up upholding the banner of “ethics in games journalism,” but the fact that they attacked Quinn instead of the journalist they supposedly had a relationship with already tells you that it’s not about that. The movement ended up being a right-wing movement decrying social justice in games and media in general, and while the movement isn’t referred to by name nowadays, it’s still alive and well.
Its spirit is alive in stuff like right-wing gamer YouTubers whipping up outrage against mildly progressive things they disagree with. Its spirit is alive in Comicsgate, a similar movement that tried to start up in the realm of comics. Its spirit is alive in shitty Twitter users dogpiling on other Twitter users with progressive takes or highlighting them to encourage harassment. Gamergate never ended, rather, the games industry quietly ignored it. Much like the state of your character in Depression Quest, we’re all just living day-to-day in this gaming culture, trying to cope with the fact that nothing’s actually changed.
That said, Gamergate does legitimately have it out for game journalists. After all, right-wing movements generally hate journalists unless they’re also right-wing. Of the game journalism sites, Kotaku, Polygon and Waypoint/Vice Games generally get the hate stick more often than not, due to being the most left-leaning of the well-known gaming sites. It’s especially so with Kotaku, because they’re notable for doing investigative pieces on abuses in the gaming industry, which is what makes that site one of the more valuable sites out there… which right-wing gamers actively don’t seem to care about (consider third image below).
But does that mean that game journalists are infallible? Absolutely not. Like, we defend the rights of the New York Times to publish things, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be criticized for their various, constant fuck-ups, like the fact that Bari Weiss and Bret Stephens are still allowed to write for it.
And Kotaku has recently fucked up in a big way. I’m not sure how I’d go about it without contributing to the problem myself, so it’s best to read Nathalie Lawhead’s response to Kotaku’s actions, instead.
And hey, by the way, I decided to see if Gamergate’s semi-official reddit actually addressed Kotaku’s unethical behavior because, you know, ethics in game journalism. Big surprise, they didn’t, but they sure have addressed Lawhead’s fears of facing misogyny.
There are actual problems with game journalism, but the supposed defenders of ethics don’t actually care about them. To be in gaming culture is a nightmare, because these monsters still run around while the biggest beacons against them have troubles upholding a single person’s dignity. But then again, a contributing reason as to how Gamergate got as bad as it did is that the games media didn’t come out as strongly against the movement as they could have. And they really should have, because that movement already hates them anyway. It’s like liberals moving right to avoid being called communists by right wingers that will do so regardless.
And the nightmare hasn’t exactly ended for Zoe Quinn, either. Soon after Lawhead came out with their story of Jeremy Soule sexually assaulting them, Zoe Quinn came out with their own story against Alec Holowka, one of the developers behind Night in the Woods. Holowka killed himself shortly after, which led the Gamergate crowd coming back around to accuse them of causing his death. The burden of the actions of a rapist shouldn’t be put on his victim, but in the end, gamers are fucking freaks that don’t care about human beings.
From playing Depression Quest, you can tell that Zoe Quinn went through a bad patch in their life. The initial wave of Gamergate and them being unfairly blamed for Holowka’s actions certainly hasn’t helped. In light of the tragedies and frustrations in gaming culture, it’s important for games media to do right for the people like Quinn and Lawhead, because if you can’t be a helpful voice for one person, how can you expect to be a helpful voice in this culture in general?
Much like the game, the troubles will never fully go away. We may never be rid of the toxic parts of this culture. However, if we’re going to put up with it, we can at least make things better.