“Ugh, that game is too depressing.”
You might have said something like that before. I have, and I’ve been dealing with depression for most of my adult life. When I say, it, though, I usually mean that the game (or movie, book, or show) is sad. I mean that it’s making me think about topics I might not feel entirely prepared to think about. I don’t mean that it’s actually causing depression.
That’s a bit of linguistic nuance that a lot of us don’t pay attention to, but it’s an important one if we’re going to help the world understand that depression isn’t just a bad day or a bad mood.
Writing for The Houston Press, Jef Rouner uses Life is Strange to illustrate the difference between a sad game and a depressing one.
“Depression runs deep in my family, and is something I’ve been struggling hard with over the past several months in ways that I have never had to before….You’d think that state would make me avoid something as emotional and tragic as Life Is Strange, but the truth is that sadness seems to actually help. The problem with depression is how it wraps you in a cloud through which nothing can penetrate. It’s like carrying around your own personal health-sapping smog. Reaching out past that not only takes monumental effort, it feels pointless. Better to just sit and stare off into the middle distance, letting entropy take you.
Likewise, it’s hard for anything to reach into you. You can hug a depressed person and tell him or her how much you love that person, and it does help, but your capacity to feel is diminished. It’s like anesthesia for your soul.
The sadness I get from Life Is Strange is a powerful emotion that penetrates the numbness. It’s something I can feel when feeling anything is welcome. Sadness is not necessarily a bad emotion, either. Why does playing the game make me sad? Because I’ve come to care deeply about the characters.”
Read on for the rest of Rouner’s powerful argument for sad — but not depressing — games.