Mastodon What Remains of Edith Finch? - A Video Game Review ~ Pallimed

Monday, March 15, 2021

What Remains of Edith Finch? - A Video Game Review

by Matthew Tyler (@PalliDad)

Fortunately for me, the pandemic has not interfered with my life-long hobby: video games. I finally got around to playing What Remains of Edith Finch, a game that received high praise for its short but engrossing Lovecraftian-esque narrative. What I experienced was a surprisingly insightful exploration of humanity’s relationship with death.

Coincidentally, I had just read BJ Miller’s opinion piece “What is Death?” in The New York Times and was struck by the parallels between it and What Remains. This game illustrates how one may “fold death into our lives,” and what can happen when we refuse to do so. As Dr. Miller says, “We really have only two choices: to share life with death or to be robbed by death.” What Remains doubles down on this sentiment by turning tragedy on its head and daring us to find beauty in every story (or video game), no matter how short.

What Remains centers on a young woman named Edith Finch who returns to her childhood home following the death of her mother. Now the last member of her family, Edith is searching for an explanation for the infamous Finch Family Curse. For reasons unknown, the tragedy of untimely death has stalked the Finch family for countless generations.

Over the course of the game, you explore the rooms of her deceased relatives in order to make sense of her family’s misfortune. Browsing journals and photographs of Edith’s deceased relatives momentarily transports you to the moment before each person’s death, allowing you to temporarily see the world through their eyes. A warning: these scenes are brief but intense and include death by suicide. While you do gain information about the circumstances of each family member’s death, many questions are left unanswered.

What I found more captivating than the mystery of the curse was the variety of ways the family copes with terrible loss. The game places particular focus on the narratives of Edith’s mother, Dawn, and Edith’s great-grandmother, Edie. Edie, now in her 90s, has lived in the family home since she and her late husband built it 80 years prior. Over the years she has lost her husband, five children, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren within the home. Instead of turning away from this massive heartache, Edie preserves each room as a memorial to celebrate the person that lived inside it. She refuses to repurpose these rooms for new family members, and instead tacks on new rooms to the house whenever needed. As a result, the house takes on a haphazard, other-worldly appearance as if it were a living organism.

Dawn, on the other hand, is terrified of her family’s past and eager to conceal it from her children. Rather than discuss death with her children, she seals off the memorialized rooms and refuses to talk about their relatives. However, as Dawn finds out and as we in palliative care know, it is impossible to insulate loved ones from loss forever. When Dawn dies, Edith is left to uncover her family’s history – and navigate the pain associated with what she finds – entirely on her own.

So often in palliative and hospice care we bemoan our culture’s aversion to the topic of death and dying. Experiencing What Remains and reading its overwhelmingly positive reviews gives me hope that the aversion may not be as strong as we think. On the contrary, it would seem there is a hunger to explore the existential in more ways than we realized -- even if some are slightly unconventional.

“If we lived forever, maybe we'd have time to understand things. But as it is, I think the best we can do is try to open our eyes. And appreciate how strange and brief all of this is.” --Edith Finch

What Remains of Edith Finch? is available to play on PlayStation, Xbox, and Windows (via Steam).

For more Pallimed posts on video games, click here. For more Pallimed posts by Dr. Tyler click here.

Matt Tyler is a palliative care doctor in Chicago. If he's not watching Cocomelon with his daughters, he is probably playing video games or making palliative care skits on TikTok.

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