What Remains of Edith Finch: The Comfort of Melancholy
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Re-immersing in a favorite game world is deliciously tempting. I want to experience the things that I loved, and... I hope to linger on each level discovering even more treats. But while there, I have to ask myself, do I still find the same things enchanting? Or has my game experience expanded beyond the crush of one of my first loves? After two years of extolling its virtues to anyone who will listen, What Remains of Edith Finch did not disappoint.
I did feel like I was home. My favorite things are all here: true recognition of the pain of being human, a balancing tone of whimsy, architectural puzzles, well-crafted narration, mystery, and crucially for me… difficult but not impossible controller challenges. Few games thread that needle.
The premise still resonates. Seventeen-year-old Edith returns to her abandoned family home to understand how the perceived family curse has caused all but one member of every generation to die. Like Edith, I expect to be forever learning about my family history, trauma, and psychology, all while wondering how on earth I fit into it.
Like Edith, I expect to be forever learning about my family history, trauma, and psychology, all while wondering how on earth I fit into it.
Is there a family curse that keeps killing everyone? Or does the weight of being told about the curse motivate everyone into reckless behavior? I could write quite a bit about Edith Finch. But, I am going to hold myself to the top three game play mechanics that align with story events to create my most compelling emotional experiences.
1. A Way with Words I love seeing the words from Edith and her family member’s journals. They are dynamically graphic poetry on screen. These words along with her relative's sealed up bedroom décor and ephemera are all that remains of each life. They are the traces to be ingested, absorbed, and hopefully, as Edith searches the family home, to provide her with meaning and understanding of her place in the world.
The words appear and disappear in evocative ways. Sometimes so ephemerally that it’s hard to capture in screenshots. Frequently they are visual clues to prompt the player toward the golden path. Sometimes they evaporate metaphorically like the spores of a dandelion.
The most compelling use of these visible words is when they are a component in the game play mechanic. One of the best examples is Gus’ death while obstinately flying a kite in a thunderstorm to protest his father’s second marriage.
The most compelling use of these visible words is when they are a component in the game play mechanic.
Gus swore he would die before he would allow his father’s wedding to occur. As Gus, the player must fly a kite in a path to intertwine with words in several ways – sometimes to unpack or unfurl them, a few times to un-reverse or erase them, and finally to collect them.
When the storm becomes more violent, the wedding guests retreat into an event tent. The player must now use the kite mechanic to collect up all of the outdoor event tables and chairs. Eventually this collage of furniture grows so large and whips through the storm so fiercely that it blasts into the event tent and unmoors it. The tent then flies through the sky, slams into Gus, and kills him. Thus, Gus kept his word to die before his father is re-married.
2. The Camera Mechanic in Sam’s death. In this level, the player is put into several camping scenes. They must look into a camera lens through rain, fog, or a blurry landscape, find something lovely or funny to focus on, and then shoot a photograph.
I have always been a camera person—way back to when it was essential to load film, adjust the f-stop for exposure, frame your shot, and manually focus the lens. The game mechanic captures that experience perfectly. The sepia tones and melancholy sound design add notes of sentimentality.
I have always been a camera person—way back to when it was essential to load film, adjust the f-stop for exposure, frame your shot, and manually focus the lens.
Throughout each of these scenes, Sam the father is telling Dawn, his daughter that he won’t always be around and she needs to listen to him and learn hunting skills to survive.
In the penultimate sequence, the player must focus Dawn’s rifle to “shoot” a buck and Sam’s camera to “shoot” a picture of Dawn as she shoots her first buck. When the buck is shot, Dawn is horrified and can't stop crying, but Sam is proud and can't wait to document it.
Sam sets up a timer to capture a photograph of Dawn, himself, and the buck. The player must focus the camera and guide Sam’s avatar into the shot before the camera timer goes off. Once Sam is in place, the buck awakens and knocks Sam off the cliff… just as the camera clicks. Simultaneously funny and cruel. Sam's death is Finch-ian quirky and unbelievable. I love irony!
Probably the biggest reason that I love this mini-game because my dad was a lifelong duck hunter—although I was never invited or even wanted to go on a hunting trip. We did camp a lot. He did teach me outdoor survival skills. I do have his old cameras. And I do sorely miss my dad.
3. Calvin’s death by swinging. This is such an uncomplicated, yet satisfying gameplay mechanic. The player must simply and persistently swing the two thumb sticks forwards and backwards in sync with Calvin’s swinging motion. With each pass, Calvin gets higher and higher. With the camera in first person POV, I got to experience one of my childhood fantasies.
I now know exactly what would happen if I swung higher and higher. Could I actually go all the way around? Could I fly? The answer is unconditionally, YES! Thank you, Calvin Finch for doing it, so that I didn't have to die. This game put me in that swing. I saw, felt, and experienced going over the top and flying. Perfection. Simple Perfection.
Could I fly? The answer is unconditionally, YES!
Much of Edith Finch resonates with me emotionally. My favorite moments in the game are the ones that tie my remembrances of family with gameplay challenges that I can master. I feel myself in Edith, in the quirkiness of her family, and in her need to understand how she fits in.
P.S. One additional mechanic that I appreciate… Thank you #GiantSparrow Games for including the ability to replay specific character stories. That certainly helped me to write this blog entry!