Counting Spoons: CS short story on chronic illness/depression; discussion thread

I’ve written a short game called Counting Spoons which is freely available online.

For obvious reasons, it makes people want to talk about depression/illness and the representation of depression/illness through games (particularly “Depression Quest”, which I haven’t played and don’t intend to play since I don’t want to experience depression any more than I already do).

The game is 99% non-fiction - I even wrote it literally on my birthday.

There’s another discussion space on my main professional facebook page

I will immediately report anyone who is unkind to anyone in this thread (I count myself among “anyone”).

-If you say depression or chronic illness is fake, laziness, “all in your head” etc, that is unkind and untrue.
-If you say there is only one true path to recovery, that is also unkind and untrue.

My personal experience is that medication has been extremely helpful, and therapy has varied from extremely helpful (and free) to costly and useless.


I actually saw this in the DashingDon site and read it there.

I had one session. It hit home due to several facts which are not important. I felt the story potential to be good. There is only one change I’d have made in presenting the idea. In order to make the story palatable to more people, perhaps assigning a “difficulty” level of: easy (most spoons available), normal (random number of spoons available) and hard (few spoons available).

The reason I feel this should be done, is because people like myself might find it extremely difficult to have multiple sessions. I know there are a lot of things I missed out of and I love your story-telling but it is just too hard to experience multiple times the way it is presented.

The wording of the achievements gained added to the game but also made the replayability factor harder for me as well.

I can tell the story was very personal and I thank you for the window into something so private for the majority of us.

I think the randomisation is important, but I’ll make it clearer that people can restart for an easier game (and how many spoons is “easy”).

A friend of a friend wrote something similar. which I also, admittedly haven’t played.

I tried to play yours but found the sound intrusive, couldn’t immediately find an off-button so closed off the window. Of course I could hit mute tab, which I now remember, but I forgot in my attempt to just get it to be quiet.

Okay trying again. It feels like a very personal experience of depression, but that’s fine. Everyone’s experiences are different.

I came across a pronoun error. I’d picked female with a female partner, but it’s given me male pronouns for my partner.

So you see, it’s a good thing Nala doesn’t get it. If your misery stuck to him, it would bounce right back to you as well.

Actually, I can’t play. Can’t play the game saying I’m morbidly obese and people hate me.


I’d strongly suggest playing Depression Quest, even as a person with Depression. It’s a very short game, and it’s an interesting take on the subject. It’s also, strangely positive for a game about depression. It glosses over some of the major issues, such as the problems with medication, and it ends on a positive, hopeful note.

While it also wasn’t close to my situation, and I did do several playthroughs trying to kill off the protagonist, which I fortunately failed at and I think is impossible, I thought it was good for simulating how depression works with the limitations of choice.

Your Counting Spoons game though, it felt harsh. It felt like those achievements, those statements were coming not from that depression filled voice, but as actual miserable facts.

None of this is an actual criticism on your game. It just feels such a personal thing, a personal story, and it’s likely to the power of your writing that it gave me a kneejerk CAN’T PLAY reaction.

Of course now I find the other thread where there’s more of a discussion. Short story on chronic illness (due in 1 day!)

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I generally stay away from any fiction or nonfiction with depression in it because it all just makes me worse. So a kneejerk CAN’T PLAY reaction is exactly what my reaction would be (and in fact, it was really hard to be in that space even as I wrote it).

I pretty much always write young adult fantasy (and a bit of scifi if people ask super nicely) but one of the interesting things about IF as a whole is this kind of subgenre of stories that are deliberately designed to bring someone into a unfamiliar but real world (usually gender related). So I wanted to try it. maybe. Once :slight_smile:

I wrote it as an experiment, and I’m glad to have made the attempt (and even more glad that people feel free to walk away mid-game if they want to).


I generally do the same. I do think Interactive Fiction is such an invaluable tool for showing people different life experiences though, allowing them to experience what they might not otherwise.

I’d much rather always play young adult fantasy though. :slight_smile:

Chances are if I’d seen the other thread first I wouldn’t have even responded here. It just came up in a search of the forum for depression, and I felt bad that it had so few replies so I decided to take a look. Because I didn’t like the idea of something like this not having many replies.


Well, that’s!.. just plain logical and open-minded. I’m really sorry that anyone has attacked you for it. Though as a person who’s been through it myself, I’ve certainly met enough people like that.

If you are easily frustrated or depressed, I recommend restarting until you get a number of spoons over twenty.

I see… some people who are easily overwhelmed might prefer the “give me easy spoons” or “give me a challenge” option without having to randomize it. It’s a small thing, but the game is potentially stressful enough, it could be worth coding in as a “set difficulty level.”
(Paraphrase) - "This is how people like me experience the world, but if you want to skip ahead to a certain day, choose your difficulty."
Edit: I had 18 spoons. I was sufficiently overwhelmed. I don’t feel I need - or more accurately could handle - more of a challenge.

As of first achievement:
This is like a Twine game in ChoiceScript. I’m loving it.

Female with female partner, I keep getting male pronouns as well.

You wonder what they all see when they look at me. Depression is an invisible illness, but it's actually not. Sometimes you don't brush my hair for days....
This is bleeding from second into first person intentionally? It’s disturbing, for sure…

A toilet trip with Bonnie usually costs several spoons
I have no choices throughout this story, and while I’ve been stretching my empathy so far, this is the first time I’m really thinking “But how could I end up here? Why would I breed this child and then keep putting up with it?”

And as I kept playing the game, I became more aware that it was one point of view, and was meant to feel singular, and trapped. It’s a unique and powerful way to code a game like this. It was hard to make it through this game, I appreciated what you did with it, and cheers to you for making it.


This is somewhat random but hopefully only slightly off-topic… where does the phrase ‘counting spoons’, or ‘not having enough spoons’ come from? I’ve actually heard this before that a friend of mine uses occasionally for self description, and now again there’s here, so I figure there must be a source.

It came from the Spoon Theory the person is referred as a spoonie. You can also search other articles about the spoon theory.

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Yup. I was originally going to call it “Spoon Theory” but I asked the actual person and basically got no response (they were going through an awful time; their lawyer spoke to me a little), so I tried my best to separate my story from them. I had come up with a much less exciting metaphor myself, that I called units of self-control - if I am self-controlled enough to diet today, I will most likely NOT be self-controlled enough to also be a nice person.

A lot of people talk about Spoon Theory, so I thought it was better to use it, especially since my own description of the same kind of thing would sound plagiarised anyway.

Are the links to her in the story not working?

I’m too tired to fix anything at the moment, but hopefully I’ll remember to come back someday.

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Just making a note here that when I’ve gathered up enough brainpower, I will definitely give this a look. Dysexecutive function disorders solidarity, eh?

Dysexecutive function disorders solidarity complete with stupid typo, to boot.


I remember this I tried playing this game and drew myself to much into the place of the person that I was crying at the end and very nervous.

I hope you’ve recovered, Drakeye. When I saw Zack was going to play I tried to come and warn him it’s not a fun game, but I haven’t been able to log in to the forums directly for two days.

Good luck, all…

Aw, that’s sweet of you. <3 I’ll make sure and play it on a good day!

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As someone who doesn’t experience illness of this sort, playing this has been such an eye-opening experience for me. I knew intellectually it would be hard – it just didn’t strike me how hard it would be until I tried it. As others have said on this forum, IF is such an excellent medium for this sort of thing and your writing really cut to the quick. Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal experience with us!

Thank you. I still have mixed feelings about the game (I always will) but your comments mean a lot to me.

Hey, it me. I’m Laguz now.

I… Still can’t play this game. Sets off far too many illnesses. As I type I’m in between bouts of thrashing about and swallowing brought up bile. I hope I helped somehow. I’m glad you made this. I’m glad stuff like this was made.

I’m glad people can know, now. Thank you.

Every so often I think about giving it another edit (I wrote and submitted it quite quickly), but the thought of facing it again is too much. So I’m with you, @Laguz

This is a great portrayal of depression, and thank you for introducing me to the spoon theory concept. I’ve tried to explain it as willpower points, or a mental budget, but I still don’t think many people understand what it’s like to have to take stock of your current mental state, what you think you have to accomplish for the day, and sometimes mentally hitting a wall or coming up short.

The achievements were used well, I flinched almost every time they came up. The best thing therapy ever did for me was help me get rid of that inner voice and counter intrusive thoughts. I’m still depressed but I don’t spiral down into suicidal ideation the way I used to. Those achievement popups were exactly what that voice was like, so kudos.


I always thought of spoons as “self control points”.

The idea of pop-up thoughts was taken (with permission) from one of the games in the 2015 IF Comp (one I didn’t dare to play - “Seeing Ataraxia” by Glass Rat Media, I believe).

I’m pretty good at sorting rational from irrational thoughts, but when I’m low on spoons it gets much harder. And the effort to constantly sort them is exhausting. Good TV is an excellent drug for silencing those thoughts, I find. Time-consuming but free, and healthier than chocolate.