How Making a Game about Depression Helped Me Overcome Mine

Classes, Dev, Games

Repost from Medium:

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was making a game as part of my Masters by Practice. Making a game isn’t new to me. In fact, I have been making them for the past 8 years.

But making a game all on my own… And making a game that I want to make… That was new.

Making a game all on my own

I am a programmer by trade, and I learned about design and production in my Masters program. But I never made art at a professional capacity before.

We can work with other people, but I opted not to. Not because I thought I could do everything myself. But because I didn’t want to let anyone down.

I know that doesn’t sound like someone with 8 years of experience should say.

It’s not that I’m not confident of my skills. It’s more like I’m not confident about my resolve. I know that I needed to make a game and I know that I needed to finish it before the deadline. But I also spend a lot of days not capable of getting out of bed.

People who don’t understand me and what goes on in my head, will think that I’m lazy. Okay, maybe I am. But it’s more complicated than that.

I talked more about this in another previous post.

Making a game that I want to make

I wanted to make a game about something that I care about. I wanted to make a game that revealed a part of me that I had always been too afraid to show.

I chose to make a game about depression.

As I talked about in yet another previous post, as someone who had tried so many times to write, short stories, poems, novels, the first thing that people tell me is “write about what you know”.

I figured it can also apply to making video games. Because video games are a great form of expression, it allows players to step into the shoes of a character.

Other games made about depression have trigger warnings in the beginning.

Making a game about depression while I have bouts of depression- that doesn’t sound like a good idea. At all. But I chose to do it anyway.

As much as I want to only “write about what I know”, I also want to include more voices and other stories. So I started a project on HitRecord.

HitRecord is a website where people collaborate and make things together. I created challenges and asked people for their stories and their input.

As much as I don’t want anyone else to go through the same things I do, knowing that I’m not alone made me feel better. Also because reading about how other people overcame their depression, gave me the assurance that I can also beat mine.

What I made

Depression Simulator is point-and-click puzzle game that simulates the everyday life of someone living with depression, where even the most mundane and menial tasks become a challenge.

Moving Forward

The most obvious way forward is to keep working on this game and release it.

But as I mentioned in another previous post, I had this idea of developing a platform for people to share their stories and talk about their experiences with depression and then I’m going to spend some time making those stories into little puzzle vignettes.

With a little help from my friends

This time I know that I couldn’t do everything by myself, so I approached two of my friends and together we are making MuniReality.

MuniReality will be a interactive web platform, where people living with mental illness can share their stories and have them transformed into interactive games. The games will be be built around comments and contributions from the community.

The games will be designed to visually emulate the mood and inner struggles of the people sharing them.

By making games from personal stories, we hope to generate interest about mental health that would not otherwise be achieved by simply telling people to care about it.

Please help us make MuniReality happen by funding our Indiegogo campaign. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you.


Making a Game: Video Update 4

Classes, Dev, Games

In other news, I just handed in everything for my Masters degree and I turned 30.

I’m going to keep working on this game and I have this idea of developing a platform for people to share their stories and talk about their experiences with depression and then I’m going to spend some time making those stories into little puzzle vignettes.

One of the things that I struggle with is having to explain to people what it feels like and hoping that they’d gain a little understanding, but it’s difficult to describe, really. I hope with that added visual and audio element, as well as interaction, they can step into my shoes for a little while.

That’s it for now. I’m still editing the game to make it run on web, as well as start QA and major major bug fixing to have it available for people to actually play.

Making a Game: Making breakfast is harder than it looks

Classes, Dev, Games

Okay, personal issues aside, I have been making very slow progress with the Kitchen Level. Turns out (yah, like the title of this post suggests) it’s not as easy as I thought it would be (and I haven’t even gotten to coding the actual cooking bits yet!!).

I think because there are actually quite a few elements involved and puzzles inserted here and there to make your lives harder (as if life isn’t difficult enough).

Making a Game: More Bad Days…

Classes, Dev, Games

Just a quick update about what I have been up to lately.

I also cut up, or at least tried, to cut up some snowflakes for another puzzle.

But then last night I just suddenly felt… Watch the video and you’ll see.

The description on the video is:

This is unedited, which is why I sound like a mess. And even though I mentioned that I was going to include an updated gameplay video, I didn’t. I will upload a gameplay video separately.

I’m sorry, but I decided to upload this anyway, because it exposes a part of me that I rarely show anyone, even my closest friends. But I still needed to say those things, and since the internet is such a big place, the chances of another human being viewing this is actually quite low, it’s like sending out a message in a bottle into the sea. But if anyone hears me, thank you for listening.

Everybody have good days and bad days; the other night was a bad one. When people ask me, "How are you?", I've been programmed to say, "I'm fine." Even though I'm not. Because I'm afraid. I'm afraid to let people see the "imperfect" side of me. The side and the voices in my head that always tells me, "I'm not good enough". That is why I'm creating #munireality, a web platform where people suffering from mental illness can freely share their stories without fear of judgment. In turn these stories will be turned into games. Have the players walk a while in my shoes and maybe then, they wouldn't be so quick to judge me and others like me. Are you there, people of the internet? If you hear me, thank you for listening. #depression #mentalillness #mentalhealthawareness #itsokaynottobeokay

A post shared by Michelle Chen (@itsmichellechen) on

And then I had to wake up again this morning and pretend that everything is okay, because my flatmates and I had plans to go to a concert.

The concert was really good. I especially liked the last band, Victories at Sea.

We also went to the Jamaica Festival in Victoria Square for dinner. The jerk chicken tastes and smells amazing. And it’s interesting how smokey the square was from all that grilling.

And tomorrow, I’m going to continue my charade, because I made plans with my classmates to go to another food festival.

Making a Game: Good days and bad days…

Classes, Dev, Games

First my board…

Oh and I set up a GameJolt page:

Nothing playable yet. Although, because I did that, I made a header for the game, also it’s now called “Depression Simulator” semi-officially.


Okay about good and bad days…

The point of my game is that sometimes there are good days, and sometimes there are bad days. And they are unpredictable.

Last week was not a good week for me.

But today is the start of a new week, and tomorrow the start of a new month. And also the last month of my Masters program.

Also before I turn 30. Eep! It’s funny how the last day of my program corresponds with my birthday. It was also like that for my undergrad degree actually (that was not a fun day, rushing around getting our thesis one last check, submitting it and saying good bye to a year’s worth of hard work).

Anyway, I added a whole bunch of stuff to my TO DO board, with new ideas I got when I was sleeping. Oh yah, part of my thing, is I sleep a lot, but at least I still generate new game ideas when I do. I just can’t bring myself to get up and actually code them. Yah… that’s a problem.

Also I got a lot more contributions on HitRecord, which are really good and really inspiring and I want to include all of them.

But no, part of production is knowing when to say no to feature creep. Or at least enough to have something playable that can be released at the end of this Module and then keep working on it after.

Here’s to foolishly hoping the rest of the month will only bring me good days.

Making a Game: Choosing to go alone and wearing many hats…

Classes, Dev, Games

Why did I decide to make a game all on my own… As in own art, own code, own design, not my own sound and music though… Also I have less than 3 months of dev time (only 1 month left…).

I think because at the beginning I didn’t know what I want to do. I just know that I wanted to make a game. What game? No idea. And that’s dangerous territory. And I didn’t want to drag anyone else down with me. It’s not as if I don’t have any artist or code friends that I can bribe. I do, I just didn’t want to bribe them.

It has never been about how I can do everything myself. I mean, I can to some degree, but you know, my art will always be a little programmer art-ish and rough around the edges. My design will reference a lot of existing designs and now tropes. And actually production wise, managing myself is actually… Bad, really bad.

I have problems with motivation. I sleep a lot, and I don’t want to get out of bed ever. But I’m trying. People who don’t understand me and what goes on in my head, will think that I’m lazy. Okay, maybe I am. But it’s more complicated than that.

But choosing to go alone means that I have to wear many hats. Last week I had my programming hat on (which means that I find excuses to go out and not work on it). I am by practice a programmer, but I think of programming or coding for short, as a process, a means to and end (yes, in a Nietzsche manner, I think of the means as pretty bad).

This week I have my artist hat on and I actually don’t have a tablet, I have pencils and paper though. But I actually draw in Flash and I don’t even own a mouse, so it’s just the touch pad of my beat up Macbook Pro, and me, manipulating vector shapes until they resemble something. The whole, the game is only in gray scale helps too, ‘coz color… That’s another hurdle.

Anyway, I am not a fan of GDDs (Game Design Documents), because I don’t believe in design written on paper. You’ll never really know if a game is fun, without playing it. And there’s no way for you to play it unless you have a game. You get it. Rapid Prototyping for the win!

One of my only plus points is that I’m a relatively fast coder. At least once I have a clear idea what I need to create. So with this whole no GDD thing, it’s actually a lot of experimentation and a lot of trial and error. And that’s alright, because whatever code I scrap is well, my code, and I have no hard feelings.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, because I work alone, it is tough at times, but at least the only person that I’m letting down is myself.

Although for this project, I’m not entirely alone, I actually have a HitRecord project where I do ask for ideas from other people. So when I do get stuck, I just issue another challenge and the lovely people contributes and I am inspired again, and I keep moving.

Also since this game is about depression and having more voices make it better and in a way in makes me feel less alone. Because I know now that other people also go through the same thing and other people can beat it. So, so could I.

One month to go! Good luck to me~!

Random Note: “Haunt” by Echos describes how I feel everyday quite accurately.

Making a Game: Looking for Ingredients and Cooking Breakfast

Classes, Dev, Games

Part of the mundane every day life is cooking breakfast and well eating.

So in my game, in the kitchen level you can open all the drawers, cabinets and fridge and scavenge for all sorts of ingredients that you then can cook in a “Cooking Mama” style.

Today I have my art hat on… and I still draw my assets in Flash, even though it was recently announced that support for Flash will soon be gone forever… 😦

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 11.43.09 PM

Making a Game: More puzzles…

Classes, Dev, Games

I’ve been focusing on adding as many puzzles and interactions in the game the past few weeks, and I’ve also added new rooms.

So the evolution of the puzzles is from the mundane to the surreal.

So you have a normal closet, where you need to rearrange the clothes according to it’s gradient color. Okay, this is a bit difficult. This idea came from ferdonkers from HitRecord, he wrote:

My closet is filled with shirts. I have so many t-shirts, that every day when I go to pick one out to wear it takes me about three to five minutes just to choose the right one. My sister taught me, when I was in high school, to hang my shirts up in color order. It is quite helpful when trying to match my shirt to my other clothes or even to how I’m feeling each particular day. Let’s say I need a red shirt, I sift through the red shirt section until I find the right shirt for the day. More than 50% of my closet is filled with t-shirts, the rest is made up of fancier clothes that I mostly don’t wear.

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 6.32.08 PM

Another closet interaction is, you sit in the closet in the dark with only a light. And this idea came from 53mph from HitRecord, he wrote:

In response to the challenge, I can tell you about some moments in my life when I’ve had to confront fears (which for me are demons), and perhaps you can weaponise them.

1) Claustrophobia

As a child I suffered from terrible claustrophobia. I hated small rooms, confined spaces, and had a reoccuring nightmare of falling into a hole in the ground that turned into a smooth metal tube which slid all the way into a smooth metal stomach from which I couldn’t escape.

I hated being a victim of my own fears, so I decided to fight fear with acclimitization. I made myself a cubby-hole inside my wardrobe, in which I would sit for hours with nothing but a torch. To get over my nightmare, I used a rolled up yoga mat of my mothers, which I would press up against the wall, then I would squeeze myself into it, arms pressed against my body unable to move, and keep myself there until I could take it no longer. Gradually I got more and more used to it and got over my fear.

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 6.32.48 PM

Another one is where this anti-character, or this shadow of yourself jumps out. And then when you return the to room scenes, the anti-character now follows you around.

The new room that I added is the bathroom. And you go through the normal routine of using the toilet and brushing your teeth.

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 6.30.08 PM

The brushing your teeth puzzle is like Simon Says, just follow the direction of the arrows.

Another is looking at yourself in the mirror. In this one, you can just draw on the fog, it’s not really a puzzle that you have to solve, it’s more like a toy.

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 6.38.12 PM

And of course, you need to take your bath in the bath tub. And there are different scenarios as well in the bath tub, the mundane to the surreal.

Like flooding in an Alice in Wonderland Pool of Tears kind of way.

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 6.30.38 PM

That’s it so far for these past week.

More puzzles to go! Deadline is also in a month, so… Aja! I can do this~!


Making a Game: Other Games about Depression and Mental Health

Classes, Dev, Games

Another Day



Fractured Minds

Winner of the BAFTA Young Game Designers competition, made by 18 year old, Emily Mitchell.

“Fractured Minds is an immersive puzzle game that uncovers the daily struggles of people living with anxiety or any mental health issue. It is designed to give the player a genuine insight into the experiences of those quietly living with mental illness – the feelings of isolation, of being trapped, of everyday situations being distorted beyond recognition.

“The game has multiple puzzles for the player to solve with an interwoven storyline. The player uses the WASD keys to move around and must work out how to move on to the next level – this usually entails solving mini puzzles or collecting certain objects to open the door. Each level symbolises a different emotion or experience associated with anxiety/mental illness.

“I realise the game is provocative and at times uncomfortable – but I felt that it was so important to be honest and true-to-life – confronting mental illness is extremely challenging and uncomfortable.”