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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 17, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Columns2014-2015

‘Depression Quest’ computer game can educate public about depression

Independent video game developer Zoe Quinn created the game “Depression Quest” in 2013. Within the year it has been active, it has received a significant amount of attention — both positive and negative — from the press, gamers and mental health advocates. Though the game does have some pitfalls, it appears to set out to do more good than harm.

This interactive experience is not truly a game. It is not meant to be lighthearted or funny, but rather it depicts the real day-to-day challenges a person suffering from depression might face. The simulation is a “choose your own journey,” meaning there are multiple paths the player can take, which depicts the fact that no two people’s experience with depression are exactly the same. It provides the player with the opportunity to make his or her own decisions, just like a person would in reality.

Some have argued that this game could be triggering to players, as it delves into some deeply negative and emotional topics. However, the site does a good job of providing tools and resources for players. One of the lines of the introduction directs potentially suicidal people to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the link is present throughout the simulation. Players can even pay to play, and proceeds go directly to the hotline.

Another argument against the interactive game is that it is too general because many of the options for play are typical, less-detailed characteristics of the illness. However, generalizations are sometimes necessary. One of the main points of this game is to raise awareness and inform society about depression. It would be too difficult to get into the specifics of the illness in an online simulation. Providing overviews allows the goal of education to be met. Players not suffering from depression can learn without feeling overwhelmed, and it also reduces the chances of people feeling the need to self-diagnose. Meanwhile, players suffering from depression are likely to find places where they connect even if the game does not match their experience exactly.

That would be impossible.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that men are more likely to take their lives, and, therefore, advocacy has had a stronger focus on males. Previous outreach techniques have not proven to be successful in this category. “Depression Quest” provides a tool to reach this group because, according to the Entertainment Software Association, about 52 percent of gamers are male. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has advocated for more mental health educational outreach on social media to target younger groups and hopefully interactive media will become a more widely used tool as well.

The best way to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health is to educate the public. This game accomplishes that. Certainly, there is room for improvement, but that is the case with any video game. The important part is that facts about life with depression are being shared in a medium more people may be able to relate to and learn from. The only glaring problem: the name. “Depression Quest” could use a little work.