• Add Review
  • Subscribe
  • Nominate
  • Submit Media
  • RSS

We must see Sisyphus happy.

(Warning: long review. Also, spoilers!)

What does an experience feel like?

This is a question that has puzzled philosophers years. When we perceive the colour red, scientists have figured out the mechanisms responsible - the specific receptors in the eye that are activated, the chemicals involved, and even the parts of the brain that respond to colour. But the subjective experience of red or redness is something that eludes an objective description. Is your "red" the same as mine? Do you and I experience the same thing when we see a red object? Is experience just the way in which a particular group of neurons respond to a stimulus, or is it something intangible and ineffable?

"Get to the point, Professor," you might justly say. "What does this have to do with any sort of RPG?"

Bear with me - because Calunio's Depression is all about experience. And, in a weird analogy to experience, it can be studied at two levels: as an RPG with battles and quests (the "objective" level) and in terms of the reactions it evokes in the player (the "subjective" level.)

On the first of those levels, Depression - keep that title in mind, because it's the key to solving the game's biggest puzzle - plays like a standard RPG with a few twists. You're a prince on a quest to save your kingdom from an evil wizard, and you can use attacks, magic, and healing spells.

"Yawn," you say. "Professor, why are you even reviewing this?"

It gets better - or, to be honest, it gets worse. After defeating the Evil Wizard, something that requires considerable level-grinding, you learn that he has placed you under a curse, which causes you to loss experience points progressively and inexorably. You can try to win them back by facing new challenges, but it's a task worthy of Sisyphus: the number of points you lose, especially when visiting new areas, keeps increasing, until you finally grow weak and die. Though there's a "good" way to die, there's no possible way to "win" the game, as you would win an ordinary RPG.

"Not fair!", you protest. "Why on Earth would you want to play a game like that?"

And it's at this moment that the brilliance of Depression hits you like a ton of bricks - a brilliance that arises by seeing how closely the Prince's quest mirrors the story of our own life.

The opening maze puzzle suddenly makes sense: it's not a maze, it's the moment of your conception; the little tadpoles are a stylized representation of sperm, and your "winning the race" reflects the fact that, in a sense, your existence was the result of a random race; if another sperm had made it home earlier, you wouldn't exist.

The scene with your parents, the nice-looking neighbours, and the fairy-tale quest now fall into place with clockwork precision: this is your childhood, the days of innocence.

The Forest of Passage symbolizes the rites of passage that we go through: and as we navigate it, often having to return to the haven of the parental home to recover Hit Points, the names of the enemies suddenly hit close to home - envy, fear, bullying, disease ("Sickheart"), random tragedies ("Surprise!"), and the unanswered questions of life ("Puzzle Tomes").

When we finally defeat the "Evil Wizard" - getting into that dream college or university, bagging that dream job - we find that our struggle has only begun; and we are brought face to face with an inevitable fact of life: sooner or later, we all die. We can be careful about our health, we can try to live well or live longer, but death passes over no man.

And once we realize this, we see that even the things that give our life meaning - material possessions, food, the quest for fame, marriage and children - are all, in a sense, ephemeral - they will all pass away. Even if we seek some sort of vicarious immortality in our offspring, as the prince of Depression does, it's a hollow victory. The Prince is us. His experience, his misery, is ours.

If this sounds like an old story, it's because it mirrors - almost exactly - the thoughts of the Preacher in the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes: vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas, "vanity of vanities; all is vanity."

And yes, as Calunio concludes, perhaps it is all for the best.

The Preacher's conclusion, at the end of a journey much like Calunio's protagonist, is "fear God, and obey his commandments", because nothing else endures.

Depression is even more chilling than Ecclesiastes, because its conclusion is that of the existentialist philosophers: tu n'es rien d'autre que ta vie, you are nothing other than your life (Sartre). That is all the meaning we have.

Should this cause us to despair? I wonder. But whatever conclusions we may reach, the experience of playing this game is one that should not be passed up lightly.

At its heart, Depression is not about clinical depression; it is about the existential depression that we all face - and overcome - in a variety of ways. Some of us may do it better than others, but in the end, perhaps it is all for the best. We will never truly know, at least on this side of the grave.

As a game, Depression is average; as a philosophical experience, and a reflection on the meaning of life, it is masterly.

Highly recommended. (To heighten the experience, listen to a song like Faith No More's "Helpless" or Radiohead's "No Surprises" while playing.)

Posts

Pages: 1
Depression's got another 4 star review... has the world gone crazy? :O

Kidding, thanks a lot for this review!
It's funny how your view of this game is so close to my own... if I'd written a review about Depression myself, it would be a lot like this (except you're a better writer).

I'm listening to the songs you mentioned right now. Good matches for the game's atmosphere indeed (though you'd be missing the game's breathtaking OST).
unity
You're magical to me.
12188
Excellent job, Professor Q! This is beautifully written and deeply thoughtful. I feel like I understand the game even more than I did before.


Professor_Q
"Life is a riddle I wish I had the answer for..."
3237
author=calunio
Depression's got another 4 star review... has the world gone crazy? :O


Well, depression can sometimes co-exist and alternate with mania. =)

author=calunio
Kidding, thanks a lot for this review!
It's funny how your view of this game is so close to my own... if I'd written a review about Depression myself, it would be a lot like this (except you're a better writer).


I'm lucky I have a dark complexion, or I'd be blushing like an anime character right now! Thank you, and I'm glad you liked the review! (I must confess, though, that it was written soon after life threw me a "Surprise" of its own - that probably explains the tone. If I'd written it, say, a week ago when I first played the game, it wouldn't have read quite the same way.)

author=calunio
I'm listening to the songs you mentioned right now. Good matches for the game's atmosphere indeed (though you'd be missing the game's breathtaking OST).


My original title for the review was "I never felt better now". But I have to agree, the soundtrack is excellent (I forgot to mention that in the review, oops!) and the ending theme is heart-wrenching in a good way.

Great work, and congratulations once again. If there were "Best Use of Medium" awards, like the text adventure competitions used to have, Depression would be a major contender.
Professor_Q
"Life is a riddle I wish I had the answer for..."
3237
author=unity
Excellent job, Professor Q! This is beautifully written and deeply thoughtful. I feel like I understand the game even more than I did before.


Thanks - your review was great too. I think you need to have a certain sort of experience to truly "get" this game (mine wasn't depression, though Freud would demur), which explains why it probably struck a chord with both of us.
unity
You're magical to me.
12188
Thanks very much!

Yeah, I agree. I feel like I connected with the game because it clicked with my mindset. I lament the fact that not everyone's going to be able to "get it."
Professor_Q
"Life is a riddle I wish I had the answer for..."
3237
author=unity
Thanks very much!

Yeah, I agree. I feel like I connected with the game because it clicked with my mindset. I lament the fact that not everyone's going to be able to "get it."


Well, that can be said of most of Calunio's work - witness the polarized responses to Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer, for instance. That said, I hope our reviews get a few more people to try it - because, if you look closely enough, its message applies to almost all of us. Even if we haven't experienced depression, most of us could identify with the themes of frustration, loss, regret and searching that pervade the story.
Pages: 1