The Importance of Doing
Gris and Depression Quest differ in their representation of how one can recover from trauma over time. Gris suggests victims can rebuild a stronger, more resilient version of their past self while Depression Quest contends that trauma becomes an immovable tenant in victims’ minds. Firstly, the medium through which each game is played represents the proximity of trauma to the victim. Gris is effectively a platformer, like the original Mario or Donkey Kong games, that features continuous movement to the right or up. Although there are a few situations where one must move a bit backward, which can loosely be compared to setbacks in the recovery stage, the next step is typically at the right-most location. Moving continuously right, Gris passes through the stages of grief and ends at acceptance, and in doing so, she develops a set of tools for moving forward. For example, waves of anger, embodied by furious maroon winds, can be met with resilience, in the form of transformation into a rigid block. Each stage brings new abilities to the characters, ultimately extending the distance between trauma and the victim and weakening the effect of trauma. The game even ends with a beautiful cutscene of a foul dark serpent creature, overwhelmed by the light, filling the fragmented woman’s body and returning the color and prosper to the game’s setting. This is met with a final tear from the rebuilt stone woman, suggesting trauma develops a symbiotic relationship with the victim, serving as a somber reminder of both their emotional strength and lasting scars. In Depression Quest, the game’s ending brings you, the player, a little further on the path to recovery. Feelings of sadness, emptiness, and helplessness have not remained the same – moments of happiness have come and gone – but there has been no definitive trend towards the feeling of peace present at Gris‘s culmination. Furthermore, while Gris ventures a sense of organization and control – players move left and right as they please and the task at hand, it becomes clear, follows through with movement to the right – Depression Quest makes no such concession. There are no gamely tasks, like figuring out levels or making a difficult jump, leaving the player scrambling to satisfy their sense of play and errantly doing their best to have their game character solve depression and find success. Here, the trap snaps shut, as the developers built the game to avoid any resemblance to the app Episode or The Sims. An example of this lies in the blotted out options: as opposed to just removing paths the player cannot follow, the game keeps them in the mix but crosses them out, only furthering one’s struggle to succeed as each opportunity for improvement is met with eventual regression to square one, all the way through to the end. While Gris allows you to venture out of the dark place, Depression Quest keeps you eternally at war with its many heads, each game offering a different picture of the result of recovery from trauma.
Gris and Depression Quest offer similar representations of the way trauma is confusing. Although Gris provides both a more optimistic and organized, narrative-like perspective of recovery than Depression Quest, both games represent how recovery from trauma has plenty of dead ends. From the get-go in Gris’s game, the player is provided little instructions from both a strategic perspective and from a literal one: the player simply is not given the keyboard directions for how to move. Probing plays into this, as the developers cross genres here, injecting an open-world element into a primarily 2-dimensional game. Probing has numerous neurological benefits, but the most important benefit here is that it forces the player into the position of throwing their hands in the air and pondering, most likely even considering giving up. Through the medium of probing, the game design forces the player to search carefully, accept a certain degree of frustration, and be ready to fail. These attributes emulate the confusing nature of traumatic events that often leave victims unsure of how to move forward. Depression Quest, on the other hand, has no open world elements and provides few opportunities for probing (past the aforementioned desire to ‘eliminate’ depression and be successful, which only can loosely be categorized under probing) since the game is played through the imageless medium of situations where one makes choices. Instead, Depression Quest uses the unsuccessful results of options the player makes as a testament to the confusing nature of depression. Firstly, the choices the player receives are often based on removing oneself from a state of languishing as opposed to moving one into a state of flourishing. In other words, the options prevent pain instead of providing happiness, which places a significant strain on the player’s fill-in goal of outrunning their mental illness. Furthermore, the dark, damp overhand that is depression quickly extinguishes any attempts to find some semblance of relaxation or success. You as the player want to succeed, but the options at hand don’t allow for much upward mobility, and when they do, the slight improvement is effectively negated by an onslaught of choices that bring you back to the starting point. The end result of these two aspects is that the game is equal parts confusing and frustrating, and while at the start skeptics might point to the game structure itself and contend the narrative is rigged to paint an unrealistic portrait of depression (the same perverse logic that suggests those suffering from depression try to be happy), the sad truth is that depression operates precisely in this fashion (though, it is important to note that depression affects each person differently): the overwhelming sense of unfairness and confusion is not a game-driven element but rather an actual representation of depression. Although Gris and Depression Quest differ in numerous ways, they both provide their players with an unfiltered expression of how the path to recovery from trauma is rife with ongoing mental battles that reap strong feelings of confusion and frustration.
Gris and Depression Quest ultimately suggest that the process of healing requires consciously taking action. Both games demonstrate that recovery from trauma is confusing and frustrating, but the critical difference in the two games is that while Depression Quest offers a bleak outlook for change, Gris suggests recovery is a natural course of action that, while challenging, is an essential process for growth. The character in Depression Quest attempts to take on their mental illness by making choices, but there is an intrinsic error. Depression Quest demonstrates that merely making choices that seem right is not enough to start the healing process. Without actively taking a role in one’s mental health, trauma is an immovable aspect of their life, and the proximity of the trauma to their daily routine stays almost exactly the same. While it is true that both Gris and Depression Quest depict the path to recovery as confusing and frustrating, Gris shows the importance of definitive steps toward healing, which demonstrates that with definitive steps – even when they are wholly wrong and cause the character to regress – one moves forward and can take on increasingly difficult challenges. The main takeaway is that to recover from trauma, one must be bold and decisive, as well as unafraid of judgment and failure, and with enough time and practice dedicated to healing, one may not ‘beat’ trauma into oblivion, but they can create a version of themselves that is strong enough to let it become a strengthening column of their identity.