What Remains of Edith Finch is an explorative, first-person video game that tastefully emphasizes mystery and tragedy. The player explores Edith Finch’s inherited family home and property by locating entrances to different rooms and secret pathways to find out the stories of Edith Finch’s deceased family members. The player does this by interacting with the memorials of the deceased family members and experiences vignettes of each family member’s death. Edith Finch’s voice narrates and acts as a guide for the player.
Her words are often visible on the screen and serve as an indicator of the direction the player should pursue.
What Remains of Edith Finch also incorporates freedom into its gameplay or at least some semblance of it. While the narration of Edith Finch guides the player through options to explore the area and take in the surroundings, players can find different aspects and interactable pieces the player may have looked over upon first glance or explore in a different direction.
Tom Bissell seems to believe that narration and freedom are vital aspects of gameplay in his book Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, saying, ‘the mixture of the two is what makes games such a seductive, appealingly dyadic form of entertainment (p. 40, 2011).’ From this point of view, it might be said that the combination of guiding narration while also allowing freedom to the player is what makes explorative, storytelling games successful. In What Remains of Edith Finch, players have the feeling of freedom and choice as they delve further into not only one overarching story but twelve small and unique stories that create something special within the game.
Freedom is a vital drawing point for many when considering what makes a video game successful. Huizinga describes the first characteristic of play as ‘that it is free, is in fact freedom. (p. 8, 1938)’ Playing a game is never a task that must be completed, but rather an enjoyable experience that can be stopped at any time (p. 8, 1938). Furthermore, Huizinga claims that there should only be a need to complete a game due to the enjoyment one receives from playing the game (p. 8, 1938). What Remains of Edith Finch excels at free play because the player has the perception of freedom throughout the game. As Bissell claims, ‘The surrender is always partial. You get control and are controlled (p. 39, 2011).’ Players have a choice to follow the guide and progress in the game, just as they have the choice to interact with aspects throughout What Remains of Edith Finch or stop playing altogether. The semblance of freedom and choice is important because players get the feeling that they are controlling the actions and paths Edith Finch takes. In reality, the game is set up in a way that the player must complete actions in a specific order, or else they cannot advance further in the game. However, the game is designed in such a way that it might dissuade the desire of the complete stoppage of play.
For instance, when considering Calvin’s untimely demise, the player has the choice to press the controls back and forth for him to swing by the cliffside. Knowing that the player is going to cause the child’s death by actively swinging might disturb and dissuade the player from using the controls, which would mean they could not advance any further in the game. However, the entire vignette is filled with a serene atmosphere, and the motion of swinging back and forth seems almost harmless. While the player has the choice to swing or not, the setting makes the situation more manageable and almost dreamlike with the visuals and narration. This also ties in with Bissell’s belief that games should have a narrative and freedom, ‘I want to be told a story – albeit one I happen to be part of and can affect, even if in small ways (p. 40, 2011).’ By actively being a part of the story, it could be perceived that as a player it encourages the desire to play and enjoy a game. What Remains of Edith Finch handles the seriousness and misfortune the Finches experience in a sophisticated way, without losing the fun aspect that Bissell speaks on.
Furthermore, What Remains of Edith Finch showcases that a serious game can be fun and innovative. Each vignette was a different experience in terms of setting, aesthetic, and gameplay. Gregory’s story, in particular, is one that embodies this belief. The story itself is light and overwhelming, though the possible emotional upheaval one might experience is most likely spanning from the knowledge that Gregory is an infant. Giant Sparrow’s production and the script was able to create an interactive, non-graphic experience of Gregory’s death through the use of the bath toys and bubbles before the scene turned into an underwater scenic experience.
The narration, aesthetics, and the slight ambiguity of the game offers a unique experience that incorporates gameplay and storytelling, a combination that could enthrall a player. What Remains of Edith Finch was able to effectively incorporate freedom, narration, and fun with the dealings of serious and, at times, sensitive matters.