Three games to understand depression

As mindyourmind's Program Manager, Melissa cares deeply about helping those struggling with their mental health. Her weekly blog, 'Radical Transparency', helps break down barriers by sharing the inner working of the program and fielding qustions from users. She is also a passionate gamer who envisions games as a way to create a better world.

Depression isn’t fun. It is a lot of things, but none of them are fun.  It’s not fun to have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. It’s not fun to question the stability of your relationships. It’s not fun feel like there’s a wall between you and the rest of the world.

So why would there be games about depression? Aren’t games supposed to be fun? Well… sometimes.

There’s a lot of controversy about games as art, but there are many (myself included) who think it’s possible. Just like a book, movie or TV show, sometimes we partake not to enjoy them, but to experience something new and true about the human experience. Sometimes they’re hard to get though. Sometimes we want to pretend something turned out differently. But we still engage with the hard stuff because it feels real.

I’ve been struggling the last few months. Which is probably why playing a series of games about depression wasn’t the best idea. That said, I think that these experiences can help people understand each other better. They help me find the words to describe something I feel that has no simple explanation.

The three games I want to talk about are:

The Beginner’s Guide – Davey Wreden
While it’s not explicitly about depression, The Beginner’s Guide is “the story of a person struggling to deal with something they do not understand. The narrator of the experience guides the player through a series of half-finished games, created by their friend who may or may not be struggling with their mental health. The urgency of trying to help a friend and the isolation of the games were both deeply evocative to me.

Depression Quest – Zoe Quinn
Depression Quest opens with a trigger warning, and a request not to play it if you’re struggling. “This game is not meant to be a fun or lighthearted experience,” it proclaims. A simple text adventure, you play a non-gendered player making decisions about how to live your life, learning about your depression throughout play. Every decision, from answering a call from your mother to adopting a cat has a huge impact on recovery and coping for your character.

The Spoon Theory – Skylar Amari & Flea Dane
Based on the spoon theory (in while your energy is measured as an expendable resource and every minute task takes up some number), this interactive experience puts light on just how hard some of the little things can be when you struggle with your mental health. Originally created for those with disabilities or chronic diseases, this game asks you to ponder how even opting-out when you’re struggling can be draining.

I’ll wrap up with this quote from Zoe Quinn at the intro of her game, Depression Quest. Stay well, friends. You are not alone.

“Depression Quest is a game that deals with living with depression in a very literal way. This game is not meant to be a fun or lighthearted experience. If you are currently suffering from the illness and are easily triggered, please be aware that this game uses stark depictions of people in very dark places. If you are suicidal, please stop playing this game and visit this link to talk to someone.”