When Shirley Dallas died, her daughter was four months pregnant. Ian Dallas went on a first date with the woman who would later become his fiance a week after his mother died. “I developed a more acute sense of where families end and begin after my mom died,” he said. “People go from being just two people who are friends, to then closer, then suddenly there’s a baby, and now it’s a family. The way that happens … it just seems kind of magical.”
One of the greatest achievements of What Remains of Edith Finch is how it captures the mundanity and surreality of death — the sharp relief of hope and life that inevitably peeks through our darkest moments. In a divorce letter about a freak accident that drowned their infant son, a husband can only think back to the sound of their baby’s laughter, imagining his joy even as he followed his favorite toys to the bottom of the bathtub. In her diary, a young girl describes her insatiable hunger with an unadulterated, mischievous kind of imaginativeness, finding language to conquer a disease that’s eating her from the inside out. In the middle of my sister’s funeral, her body stiff, swollen, foreign, and ten feet away from me, I was horrified to discover I was holding back a smile, thinking of how livid she’d be to know the whole damn city hadn’t shut down to pay its respects. At the meeting where the doctors told me my sister would die of cancer, I could barely hear them, suddenly overcome by a vision of her — much older, more haggard, exhausted, annoyed, and very much alive — with a toddler on her hip.
What makes Edith Finch a triumph above most other attempts to cope with grief is how it “sets the table with all the ingredients,” as Dallas described it, and lets you make your own meal out of it. It doesn’t tell you how to feel. It puts no words to the indescribable sensation of loss. It only shows you how one family tried to cope, to find life in the midst of it all — how they failed and triumphed in remembering their dead. But only you can determine what remains after loss: something tragic, something beautiful, something at once ordinary and extraordinary. Or, as Dallas put it while searching for another metaphor, it’s kind of like the theory of how DNA is made: just a jumbled mess of molecules, forming and combining and dividing in whatever way they will.
“The real power doesn’t come from us,” Dallas admitted, addressing the critical acclaim and glowing reviews his game has received since its release in April. “It comes from creating a space where players can connect our stories to their own lives. And make their own stories.” And maybe, eventually, even retell them differently.
Author’s Note: If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, do not suffer in silence. Please ask for help. If you are in crisis, or need guidance helping someone in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255), free, available 24/7, and confidential. For international resources, this list is a good place to start.
Jess Joho is an incoming Mashable entertainment reporter. Previously, she’s written on the web of internet culture, games, media, and intimacy for Vice, Paste, The Atlantic, Vox, Rolling Stone, and Kill Screen.