February 14, 2013 5:30 PM | John Polson
Valentine's Day is here, and for some, it can be a day of great disappointment, regret, shame, self-loathing, and just about any other depressed feeling some societies impress upon others to feel about being single/alone. For others, depression lasts 364 more days a year.
Such is Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey, and Isaac Schankler's Twine game Depression Quest, available at a Pay What You Want price. Quinn writes that the game "aims to show other sufferers of depression that they are not alone in their feelings, and to illustrate to people who may not understand the illness the depths of what it can do to people."
I don't want to spoil the whole experience but some (anti-?)highlights of its authenticity include the pestering questions of a parent, pushing someone to move in to avoid dealing with real issues, and dodging one's boss and work. It's all rather bleak but feels real.
After playing, I asked Quinn about a few design choices and her thought about why the first person to "get" the depressed player-character was an online friend, not the people the player sees everyday.
Some are crossed off no matter what to express the fact that depression sufferers often know what the "right" thing to do is but are unable to force themselves to do it. I'm deliberately showing the player what they *can't* do because of the illness. They're also generated based on how low your current depression level is, so the lower you get the harder it is to do everyday things or do much more than exist. It helps illustrate the despair and frustration that sufferers feel.
How did you program those three grey statuses to work? They almost act like a HUD, which is pretty cool for a Twine game.
I basically set up something in the nodes that acts vaguely object oriented. It calls these nodes every encounter, and sorts it to the corresponding depression "level" node. Those nodes contain the images & the sound track that is quiet except for glitchy noises. The more depressed you are, the worse the static and glitch SFX get.
The most helpful person in the first part of the game happens to be someone you chat with online. Can people really be that poorly perceptive in real life? What makes people more perceptive online?
A lot of time it can be extremely difficult to discuss something so personal for someone who is full of so many negative thoughts and feelings about themselves with someone they see every day and have to interact with often. It can be intimidating to do the face-to-face admitting how you're feeling, partially because sometimes even hearing the words come out of your mouth feels horrible.
Sometimes having a monitor in front of you to take the edge off the anxiety can help. Through my darkest times some of the most helpful people have been internet friends, and I don't think that's too uncommon of an experience. So I wanted the game to reflect that.
[Zoe Quinn's Depression Quest]