What Remains of Edith Finch in the test - Why death is ultimately unimportant

Author: Rae Grimm, Elena Schulz
Date: 2017-04-28 17:34:00
What Remains of Edith Finch is a game about life. We only understand this in the test after we have witnessed the death of every member of the Finch family and thus fall into an ingenious trap.

Still, we disagree: What Remains of Edith Finch is not a game about death. It's about life and leaves us falling into a nasty trap by putting death in the foreground: in the end, like the Finch family, we have to realize that we've been focusing on the wrong thing all along.

But we are not unhappy about it, because in its ten chapters the short but intense adventure game by Giant Sparrow introduces us to the members of the Finch family, who all came to a tragic end far too early. This creates an unusually emotional and melancholy experience that we rarely find in video games.

What remains is not sadness, but hope . Because Edith Finch is also an incredibly happy game that shows that death is senseless, absurd and unpredictable - just like life - and that in the end it might just be that we were there at all.

Looking for a curse

As Edith Finch we go on a search for the truth behind the supposed curse that weighs on her family. Her path leads her back to the abandoned house of her childhood, which is the linchpin of the different fates and which has remained unchanged since the death of her eldest brother and great-grandmother six years earlier.

The rotten remains of the last meal we had together are still on the table, the chairs are overturned, the electricity is turned off. The result of an abrupt departure into a new life in a desperate attempt to escape the family curse.

It doesn't want to succeed. Edith's mother Dawn dies a few years later and everything she has left for her daughter is a mysterious key to one of the many locks in Finch's house, which may explain the many tragedies behind. In search of the right castle, we wander through the abandoned home with Edith.

In every corner of the lovingly detailed environment hides a memory from Edith's childhood, which she writes in her diary. Like in an interactive picture book, the letters dance across the screen as she reads what has been written. It's a bit as if we're actually reading Edith's diary and listening to her thoughts.

Every room a new world

In each of the little stories, the gameplay helps us to trace what the person felt and experienced in the last moments of their life. Each room in the nested house is a sealed time capsule. A small museum, almost untouched since its former resident left it for the last time. Secret passages connect the various places and allow us to enter the previously inaccessible places. Each one represents a chapter, its own short story about the person who lived here.

That's how we get to know the cat-loving Molly, who died in 1947 at the age of only ten. Her brother Calvin, who loved astronauts and whom she never met. Her nephew Gregory, who, decades after Molly's death, had not even reached the age of two. And of course Edith, who had to bury two brothers, their two parents, an uncle and their grandmother.

With each new chapter What Remains of Edith Finch presents not only a completely new character, but also new game elements at the same time. Molly's childlike imagination lets us slip into the roles of various animals hunting for food after she's sent to bed without dinner. Suddenly we look through the eyes of a cat chasing a bird, before we become a rabbit-hunting owl, a seal-hungry shark, and finally even a man-eating monster snaking across a ship in search of prey.

The story of the former child star Barbara is told on the pages of a kitschy horror comic through which we steer the young woman. We experience the last moments of family man Sam exclusively through the lens of his camera and capture them ourselves in snapshots.

One of the most disturbing and fascinating experiences in What Remains of Edith Finch is the story of the cannery worker Lewis, who dreams of a better world on the assembly line. While we behead fish with the mouse, we control Dream Lewis with the keyboard through an ever-growing fantasy world that eventually devours the entire screen - and his sanity.

The end of the Finch family is never actually shown. Sometimes it is clear what happens at the end of one of the stories, sometimes it is left to our imagination. It almost always hits the heart.

More than a walking simulator

Whatever character we play, What Remains of Edith Finch's gameplay is minimalist. The adventure is more than a walking simulator, but still offers no puzzles outside of the individual stories. The biggest challenge is to understand the changing controls and to figure out what we actually have to do, because the game doesn't take us by the hand. There are no tutorials and no explanations. Like Edith, we're on our own.

In addition, we have to struggle with the different opening doors, hinges and flaps on the PC. What is very intuitive to control with the controller can quickly become fiddly. The controls were never really annoying. Even if the developers recommend the controller, you can still use the mouse and keyboard with a clear conscience.

The fact that hardly anything is explained to us goes well with the plot and atmosphere of the game, but at the same time it is also the element that is most likely to tear us out of it. For example, while as teenagers Gus fly a kite in the sky, it's not always clear what to do next. From a first person perspective, we look up at the sky and let the toy glide through the air while we more or less wait for something to happen.

Although the situation offers few possibilities, it is still not always obvious when we have to steer the kite to which point in order to advance the action. So the chapter is unnecessarily drawn out by trying it out and what should have been an emotional moment loses its strength.

Fortunately, it doesn't often happen that What Remains of Edith Finch gets in its way like that. The varied gameplay otherwise almost perfectly underlines the different personalities of the characters and make each story unique.

Horror game or not

None of the deaths is presented in a striking way. Rather, they are little tragedies that unfold before us while we can do no more than watch them and send the characters into their inevitable death. No matter what we do, Sam's hunting accident or Barbara's disappearance was decades ago. There is nothing we can do about it.