I first heard of the game What Remains of Edith Finch when Jim Sterling posted a video about it, and immediately I knew I wanted to play it. As much a piece of interactive storytelling as a game, it reminded me of Gone Home, a game I loved, which involved your character exploring an empty house, reading documents and receiving pieces of story through voiceover narration.
Gone Home, however, contained very little game – it mostly involved picking up objects to read them, and occasionally inserting a cassette tape into a stereo. On that measure, What Remains of Edith Finch is quite different. While the basic mechanic of exploring a large, empty house is similar, Edith Finch uses this framework to connect a series of short stories, each told in a different style through a different mini-game, with varying levels of interactivity. The first, for example, is the diary of a young girl, and you play as her through the increasingly fantastic story she tells in her final entry, with the movement and actions changing as the story twists and turns in the way that stories by small children often do. Other stories can be as simple as a slideshow, or a flipbook cartoon.
The story goes like this: about a century ago, the Finch family travelled to America from Norway in an attempt to escape the family “curse”. After arriving, they built the big, strange house in which the family has lived since, and it’s in and around this home that each member of the family has died, one by one, some as children, some as parents, very few having reached old age. In the game, Edith Finch Jr., currently the only living member of the Finch family, has returned to the house in search of their stories. The lives of the Finch family are preserved in their rooms, each one abandoned exactly as it had been when the occupant died, and later sealed shut; the rooms hold their stories, and each story is about a death.
This could have been a very dark game. It’s definitely a sad one. But the game doesn’t just tell us how a group of people died, one by one – it tells us the stories about how they died, each coloured by the perspective of the storyteller, and often with a dose of whimsy that cuts through the sadness. The darkest, saddest chapters in this narrative are also usually the most fantastical. The death of children is always going to be a difficult subject, but What Remains of Edith Finch manages to capture in each child’s story the sense of wonder and happiness those children held in themselves while they were alive.
In a sense, Edith Finch is about the power of stories. This is a family that is constantly telling stories about itself, the “family curse” among them. We see stories used as a way to come to terms with loss, but we also see stories that keep people trapped, preventing them from moving on. Maybe Great Grandma Edie was wrong for keeping the stories alive; maybe her daughter Dawn was wrong for protecting Edith Jr. from those same stories. This game isn’t about giving definitive answers to such things. These stories aren’t there to give us the truth but the feeling of it; just as the game is not so much a challenge as an experience.
I played What Remains of Edith Finch on the PC, but it’s also available on the PS4; I hear the controls might be a bit better there – they could be a bit finicky in places with the mouse. Either way, I highly recommend giving it a try. It’s a short game – about a couple of hours – but worth it.