Depression Quest: Forget the Controversy and GamerGate. Is it art?

There’s been a lot of ugliness surrounding this game and its creator due to all of this GamerGate controversy. But there’s a million voices already sounding off on that debate and that’s not what I want to address in this blog. Sometimes when we get all caught up in social and cultural rhetoric, we forget to look at the games themselves.

Depression Quest was released in 2013 and has split the gaming community down the middle. Some reviews have been overwhelmingly positive with gaming critics leaping to praise it, while others have been crushingly negative with many not even considering it a game at all. Zoe Quinn created Depression Quest as a way to tackle the subject of depression head on and try to build understanding of the issue through an interactive narrative. The player is presented with descriptions of a variety of situations and decisions to make based on those descriptions which lead to five different endings. These are constructed in a way that attempts to bridge the gap between sufferers of depression and those who have never experienced the affliction before by putting them in a depression sufferers shoes. The decisions they are faced with are often illogical and often aren’t decisions at all, as many options are crossed off depending on prior decisions made. This is supposed to convey the idea that depression often robs the sufferer of choice. It’s a very clever narrative device and one that can only be done through gaming.

Many have said that it is not a game. They have criticised Depression Quest for being boring, repetitive, unintuitive and just an all around poor gaming experience. In many ways, they are right. This is gaming used as a social tool, gaming used as education rather than entertainment. It’s making a statement and all of the GamerGate ugliness aside, it’s trying to use the medium in a creative way to try to instigate positive change and alter perceptions. If that’s not art, I don’t know what is.

Art affects people, art changes perceptions and makes a statement about culture or life in a creative way. Depression Quest does this in a way that only a game can. Is it perfect? Certainly not. It’s rudimentary, clunky and ¬†downright clumsy at times. But it’s bold and it’s different. For gaming to move forward as a medium and be recognised as a legitimate art form, this type of experimentation is welcome and needed. The hardcore games will always be around, but there’s certainly room for this sort of experimentation and I’m excited to see more in the future.