I'd rather do this. This is the game that launched a thousand death threats. I should know just what, exactly, the big deal is right? What is just so offensive about this game possibly getting attention that it took a full blown C-O-N-spiracy to warrant success?
The conspiracy is not what drew me to the game to begin with, though. What drew me to it was a girl.
Namely, my now ex-girlfriend. Keeping the details to an absolute minimum here, she represents both the longest intimate relationship I've had to date, surpassing even my marriage by about 2 years, and also the hardest and most stressful relationship I've had with another human being. There's been divorces from our respective previous partners, a brain surgery, job/disability issues, constant moving, plenty of unmentionable drama, and just plain old arguing. Most of this could just be boiled down to personality difference. I am, by nature, patient, soft-spoken, subtle, in contrast to being a very large man; she is loud, brash, domineering, and often completely tactless, compensating perhaps for her being a very short woman.
She also suffers from crippling depression.
Now, somehow, despite everything, the two of us remain very close friends, and have gotten to the post-mortem phase of our relationship rather quickly, all things considered. And drilling deep enough into our issues past and present, there's always the depression there. It weighs on her, it is omnipresent, it is all-consuming.
And it is absolutely incomprehensible to me.
There's only so much currency the statement "I'm privileged" carries. Certainly being black is a minus, but in addition to still being male, I've had a damn decent life so far. Among my blessings is the fact that I've never experienced this kind of depression. My ex's surgery was probably the closest I've ever gotten: A period about two years ago where there was no solace to be found in any one or thing, and my need to vent the pressure and focus my complete overwhelmed anxiety into something constructive manifested in just terribly misguided ways. Anyone who saw that one shitty Walking Dead editorial I wrote for CHUD before I pulled it? That happened during that period. It lasted a month. I got better. But what I felt during that period never overshadowed the constant "fact" that there was light at the end of the tunnel. This is something the depressed have to squint harder than everyone else to see.
In the meantime, I am surrounded on all sides by depressed friends, family, and have been almost entirely since I was a teenager. It seems ubiquitous. It just seems to be something about the kind of person I attract and want. There's a sadness at the core where all the humor and introspection I look for usually stems from. Ironically, the vast majority of my support network is people that need a support network the most. I've been it in the past. I know how to listen, to have empathy, and I know better than to try fix it, but it also has a drain and effect on me that I know, to my detriment, I tend to resist and freeze in response to after a time. My ex-wife introduced me to spoon theory, in effort to explain her social anxiety. In that parlance, I've gathered quite a collection of spoons over the years to counter my own introversion, but I know that having to comprehend depression forces my spoons to fall away faster than I want.
All this is a very long preamble to the simple fact that I felt like Depression Quest was the first time someone has been able to translate depression in a way that made sense, in a way that wasn't just me making a concerted effort to be in someone else's head for a while, but to actually inhabit it, where their choices and their consequences were mine. This is a power gaming has above all other forms of media, and one that isn't utilized to its fullest extent. Yes, I love being able to inhabit super soldiers, or ninjas, or wizards, or giant robots. It's rare I inhabit someone human, who has a human experience, and a very human obstacle that needs to be conquered. Not to dig up this dead horse again, but this is why we've never gotten the Citizen Kane of gaming: That was a film about trying to piece together what might've gone through the head of someone whom ostensibly had everything, and somehow still wasn't content. How do you translate that kind of exploration of what it is to be human and to be given power to a medium that seemingly HAS to give a measure of power to even be played?
Depression Quest figured that out. The first choices you have, well, aren't choices. You're given four options at the outset in terms of completing a project for work,all involving various degrees of surrender to complete apathy. The balanced, "normal" option is never available, even after you've played through the game to its Christmastime climax and you, are, ostensibly, as winning as the game allows you to get. And all "winning" against depression means, just like reality, is you might have a fighting chance of actually being able to interact with the world like a normal human being. Maybe. There's a 20-30% chance of that.
It's a simple matter of player agency. Giving in, giving up here means life taking options away from you, or making the remaining options seem so oppressively arduous as to be cruel, and this is for simple shit like starting a conversation with someone, or going to the dentist.
The one other running theme is love. Choosing to open up let other people try--not necessarily succeed, but try--is as close to a first aid kit as can be had. If there's an area the game missed on, it's this: Accepting love is hard. It involves being able to love yourself enough that you're worth it, and I know that much, that self-loathing skips hand-in-hand with depression through a field of fucking gillyflowers on the regular, and it's all too easy for you to take in a kitten, or open up to people, and actually get that love here. But, the game already feels like a challenge, why make things harder. I can't even imagine what that's like to actually live it.
That's the thing: Even after the game ends,I can't put myself into the headspace of a depressed person. But it did give me more empathy. It let me carry the weight for some time, to help me maybe understand those who have to carry it for all time. When my ex texts me, and she's got something happening beyond her control, triggering her worst tendencies, maybe my patience will hold a little better. Maybe I can remember what this was like, and maybe consider the fact that my options for responding to her aren't crossed out in red. I can offer my heart, if anything else. And yes, this is a game that helped realize this. A game gave me the ability to care for the people around me more effectively instead of making me better at getting headshots. That's an absolute good, full stop.
And somehow, I'm supposed to believe that the person who had this as a goal slept her way into giving this good press. How the fuck is that even possible? Look, there's the final screen for Depression Quest below. That is a block of text full of GIANT, OBNOXIOUS RED FLAGS for indie games to be marketable and well received, let alone anything approaching mainstream. I seriously doubt this makes Quinn any money, nor is it going to earn her a spot at the big time. She made the game free on Steam after Robin Williams passed away, which removes that possibility even more. Even if, as a lot of her detractors say (by contrast, these are the moderates, who aren't calling her a purple-haired whore in so many words), this is all a Machiavellian ruse for attention, it's not like the cultural conversation around Zoe Quinn's bid for attention is losing Activision any Destiny pre-orders, or giving Rockstar a moment of pause while they count their fat stacks of GTA money. It never could. This is not a game that invalidates the need for escapism and fantasy. If anything, it can be said it reaffirms it. There's a concept that's been floating around a couple years now to help translate privilege in a way gamers can understand: That straight, white, and male is life's Easy mode. For anyone not playing life on Easy mode, finding ways to not deal with the 20,000 ways the real world outside your front door will try to fuck with you is a crucial skill. To invite Depression Quest into your sphere of escapism is an act of bravery. It cannot be forced on anyone, no matter how many Indie Game Jams its creator supposedly ruined, or publications have been swayed by the Imperius curse hidden in her vagina to give it more coverage. When it's done, and you're done letting it stew, the first thing you're gonna wanna do is run out and buy a game where you kill aliens and collect shiny things for a few hours. There's room for all these things in gaming.
That said, given the last week, a lot of folks could use a game that forces empathy on its players. If it takes an industry-wide conspiracy to do that, send me an email, I'll tell you where to send my sweet Freemason pin.