Edith Finch and Playing in First Person

What Remains of Edith Finch is known to me as one of the prime examples of the “walking simulator” genre. I had partially played Gone Home, another game of the same genre, and found it to be an interestingly atmospheric form of storytelling in games. It honed in on two things: exploration and discovery. These two elements also play a part in other game genres as a way for players to see the game world and story (if any) for themselves, but are often not the primary focus. Walking simulator games instead focus on them, making them the main mechanics for progressing the story, which then puts the story front and center rather than as a passive backdrop for the game. 

Initially, I quite enjoyed the atmosphere of the game. The soothing narration and the sound of the forest was calming. Even the slightly dark humor was a nice touch, as it shaped both Edith Finch as our narrator as well as the early tone of the game. But if Life Is Strange taught me anything about an intro scene in nature, things can quickly go south.

After the exposition as Edith wanders through the house again, encountering Molly’s story gradually transitions the mood into a less lighter one. By having her story told through her voice, as well as through her child-like perspective and imagination, I got to briefly understand her personality (and potentially how she saw things before she died). At the same time, it was unsettling to hear her young voice narrate an increasingly dark story, even if it was fictional. This is the same for each member of the Finch family. Each fictional lens (meaning the way each story was told, i.e. the comic book, the camera photos, the daydreaming, etc) was creative, imbued with some aspect of the person. At the same time, the tragic fates of each family member underscored the experience, and I came to expect an unfortunate end each time. The journey through the house became increasingly difficult to process, and as a player, you might feel a similar amount of familiarity with death and the family curse, as the later Finch family members did. With this format, the players are put in a unique situation where they experience the story with their own reactions and emotions, while also dynamically understanding what Edith might feel as she goes through the house and reacts to her discoveries. 

Interestingly, I realized that I had watched Lewis’ part of the story without realizing that it was a part of a larger game. I remember being initially stunned the first time, having to sit back and fully absorb 1) how dark the story was and 2) how creative the storytelling was. Experiencing it in context, however, I went in with a less cheery mindset. By that point, I was already somewhat shaken by the previous stories, but coming up to the stories of Edith’s siblings felt like the game was nearly at its lowest point in terms of mood. It is near the end, when Edith comes to a conclusion in her journal, that the presence of Edith as the narrator and player’s character plays a critical role. While I was processing all the stories I had just witnessed, Edith’s voice came back in, reflecting on the stories of her family. Without her perspective, I would have likely left the game appreciating the creative storytelling, but also feeling quite heavy. Edith might have, and certainly could have, felt this as well. The player could have been left wondering what she might have thought; it certainly could be a reasonable way to end the game if the designers wanted the player to come to their own conclusions. But Edith as a character comes back in, expressing her final reflections and ultimately coming to a hopeful conclusion despite everything. It almost feels as though the player hears the insights of a wise, kind friend. Players are rooted in the story through Edith as a playable character, but they are invested in the end by the conclusions that she makes as the narrator. This aspect of walking simulators, in my opinion, is what makes them have the potential to be powerful storytelling tools.

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  1. It was interesting to read your thoughts on how hearing Edith’s comentary added to the story experience and how you felt like this type of commentary was a powerful aspect of walking simulators. I’m curious whether you feel like this type of commentary is very different from the type of narration that sometimes occurs in TV shows and books. Also, would it have felt different if instead of playing the narrator, we had a separate narrator character that tagged along with us?

  2. I think it’s interesting that you mention the role of a central character, Edith. throughout this game, we are introduced to the perspectives of several different characters and physically take their perspective in the game. But the fact that we are “rooting” for Edith in this game made me also feel more attached to the story, because of a presence of a central character. I wonder if this game did not have Edith as a main figurehead we would still feel the level of cohesion that we experience in the game, or if it would feel more like a collection of short stories.

  3. I definitely agree with the cohesiveness that WROEF had by planting Edith as the central character. I didn’t even think about Edith not being alive, though you could probably reason it from the beginning of the game, so throughout my experience of the game I was like “Edith is gonna be the one to survive, she’s gonna beat that curse” and at the end I was like, damn. ok. I’m not sure what else I was going to say. I’m so tired it is almost 6am

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