“Its emotional character is probably mostly indescribable except as a sort of double bind in which any/all of the alternatives we associate with human agency – sitting or standing, doing or resting, speaking or keeping silent, living or dying – are not just unpleasant but literally horrible.” – David Foster Wallace
I’ll never forget the moment I sat in my guidance counselor’s chair during my senior year of high school, the usually bright fluorescent lights overhead seeming muted as she told me I might be depressed. That word rang in my ears as she suggested I go on medication, as I left school early that day, as I rode quietly in my mom’s car thinking I must be such a disappointment to my family, and as I lie in bed that night willing myself to fall asleep. I was still struggling and would continue to struggle, but at least I had a word for my struggle now. A clinical one, no less. It was something I could hold onto and maybe try to wrangle.
While dealing with often debilitating depression over the years, I’ve come across many quotes that have struck me. The words of others have been a great comfort, a reminder that there are people who exist in this state of being with me, offering a sense of solidarity that has often been important enough to keep me going on days when all I wanted was to give up. I recently came across the above David Foster Wallace quote while playing a game called Depression Quest, conceptualized by Zoe Quinn and written by Quinn, Patrick Lindsey, and Isaac Schankler.
Depression Quest is an unconventional game. It’s free to play, for one thing, although you’re given the option to donate any amount you feel comfortable with to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. It’s browser-based, so it’s easily accessible for non-gamers, and it provides an insightful, interactive window into what it’s like to live with depression. It can be a useful tool for coping, but it can also act as a guide for those who are living with depressed loved ones. It can lead them toward understanding how the disease can affect every area of a person’s life and maybe how they can help.
That David Foster Wallace quote is the first thing you see when you start the game, and like so many quotes have, it struck me. The idea of depression as a “double bind” is exactly how I would describe it. Every option – whether it’s eating or not eating, lying down or getting up, hiding in your room all day or going outside, sleeping or waking up, dying or living – is no better or worse than every other option. Depression is bleak homogeneity. It’s a barren gray landscape stretching as far as the eyes can see. It’s lights out in an empty room. Everything looks the same, actions are just motions, and when it all comes down to it, nothing matters. That’s the best way I can think of to describe depression in ways that people outside of it might understand. It’s not just being sad, having a bad day, or going through a rough time. It’s looking at everything around you and not actually seeing anything.
Depression Quest gives you scenarios for dealing with depression, although it comes with the disclaimer that they won’t necessarily mirror your own circumstances, since everyone’s experience is different. The most beneficial actions in Depression Quest require talking to someone, even if it’s just to tell them how you feel, and that has almost always been the key in my own personal struggle. Although not everyone will understand, having at least one person in your corner sometimes makes all the difference. It’s the stone you can use to build outward from, and trust me, you need that because doing it alone will only end up burying you.
I was struck by another thing while playing Depression Quest. At certain points in the game, the person you’re playing as is hesitant to talk to others because he/she is afraid it will make him/her seem weak, lazy, a burden, etc. As I was playing, I kept thinking, “They won’t think that! They obviously love you! Just tell them!” Then I realized those thoughts were in direct opposition to how I usually think of myself. When I’m in the worst throes of depression and have traveled deep into that gray landscape, I feel like a disappointment to my family, a burden to those who love me, and a poor excuse for a human being. Why am I so much harder on myself than I am on a video game persona? Why can I approach people with my struggle in the context of a video game but not in real life? Because it’s easier. Because it’s what I’m supposed to do in the game. Because everything will turn out okay in the game.
But what if it’s easy in real life too? What if that’s what I’m supposed to do in real life? What if everything will turn out okay for me too?
Play Depression Quest here.
Alyssa Hatmaker is an aspiring writer and full-time student earning her Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Mass Media. When she’s not writing, she searches out and plays unconventional video games, watches too muchSupernatural, and drinks too much coffee. She blogs for Destructoid and Adventure Gamers, and she can be found on Twitter @lyssness, Tumblr and Pinterest.