A Competitive Battle With Ourselves

In the first discussion post, I used the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of games in order to create my definition of it: “an activity engaged in for diversion or amusement.” In addition, I argued that in order to be classified as a game two components are required: a competitive nature and an active role of the participants. In order to challenge my definition, I decided to play Depression Quest, an interactive fiction game where you play as a person living with depression.

At the start of the game, the authors state, “Depression Quest is a game that deals with depression in a very literal way. This game is not meant to be fun or lighthearted. The goal of this game is a twofold: firstly, we want to illustrate as clearly as possible what depression is like, so that it may be better understood by people without depression. Secondly, our hope is that in presenting as a real a simulation of depression as possible, other suffers will come to know that they aren’t alone, and hopefully service some measure of comfort from that.” After spending some time playing Depression Quest, I no longer think that Merriam-Webster’s definition of a game is accurate. A more accurate definition of a game would be “an activity engaged in to achieve a goal or objective, usually for diversion or amusement.” While most of the time, games are created with the purpose of being fun; it is not a necessary component for them to be classified as one. The larger objective of this game is to help people understand the seriousness of depression and the potential consequences it could have if not treated appropriately. People go into this game not with the intent to have fun, but because they are aiming for one of the two objectives at hand: to learn about depression or to realize that they are not alone in their depression.

When I defined a competitive nature as a main component of a game, I had a very clear idea in mind: winning. After playing this game extensively, I have learned that while there is no winning, there is still a competitive nature, just not in the way I originally thought. People who suffer with depression often describe it as being at a constant war with them, which to me is almost competition-like. In a sense, the user’s “competition” throughout this game is themselves– and seeing how the decisions they make in the game effect the content of the game itself.  For example, in one round of the game I selected all negative choices, which in turn ended my relationship and caused me to lose my job. On the other hand, in a round where I selected more positive solutions, the results ended positively as well– I was promoted at my job and I moved in with my significant other. “Depression Quest drives home a truism that many people, against good evidence, still struggle to accept: depression is something you deal with, not something you fix entirely. Day after day, page after page, in your own inherently limited way, you do the best you can with the options presented to you, and you hope to avoid the kind of downward spiral that can be all too costly (Kyle Orland, 2014).”

In my first discussion, I also argued that participants must have an active role in order for something to be classified as a game. In this game, players are given a page of text describing an everyday situation and corresponding decisional links on how to deal with that particular issue. This means that as players the content of our situations will be based on the decisions we select, giving us an active role. However, our activeness role in our game depends on our character’s depression state. For example, if our character is more depressed, some of the choices are crossed out and cannot be selected. On the other hand, when our character is happier, we have more options to select from. Additionally, the severity of our character’s depression is given every round. Based on the choices players make, it will tell you the symptoms of depression your character is experiencing and whether or not you are currently using any forms of treatment (therapy or medication). These factors play a role in what choices you can or cannot make.

Example 1
Source: http://www.depressionquest.com 
In the above example, I was selecting options that clearly made my character feel more depressed; because of this, I was only given one option to choose from in regards to what I would do about work.

One important aspect of video games that I missed in my original definition was the role that audio and visuals create in the game. The audio and visuals changed based on the choices I selected. When I chose more positive solutions, such as seeing a therapist or beginning a medication, the pictures became more colorful and clearer. However, if I chose more negative solutions, such as drinking, the pictures became darker and harder to make out.

Below, the image on the left popped up when I decided to reach out to someone close to me for support. The image on the right, however, popped up after I chose to ignore a conversation with my significant other that should’ve been have.

Source: http://www.depressionquest.com 

Overall, I believe that Depression Quest possesses all of the qualities that meet my definition of a game. It provides a competitive nature because players are forced to compete with their depression. It is interactive, as players are required to make choices that have positive or negative consequences on their character. While one could argue that this isn’t a game because it is not fun, it serves a larger purpose: helping people understand and cope with the severity of depression.

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