Video games are famously awash with death yet disinclined to think it through, to explore what death means beyond failure and a restart or victory and the spoils. What Remains of Edith Finch is among the most powerful exceptions to the rule. Equal parts speculative fiction anthology and dynastic tragedy, it is the tale of a family destined to die prematurely, as retold by the last surviving member. Like Gone Home multiplied by 13, it gives you the run of a vast house apparently constructed by Dr Seuss, each room containing an object that plunges you into the final moments of its owner.
It’s not death that overtakes the Finches, mind you, but their fantasies about death. They are carried off as much by their attempts to imagine the approaching end as by illness and mischance. Sometimes these attempts feel like defeats – I think of Lewis the cannery worker, his chopping block a slowly flourishing continent, hands feeding fish to the blade as he follows his own, daydreaming effigy into the hereafter. And sometimes they feel like a kind of triumph, like a transforming and gladdening of the grey details put across by newspaper clippings and doctor’s letters.
Molly, whose demise is the first you’ll experience, mischievously pictures herself as the monster under her own bed, hungering for herself. Milton, the artist in the turret, paints himself out of the world with a bow (a sequence that charmingly, and poignantly, references Giant Sparrow’s previous game The Unfinished Swan). The saddest parts of the game aren’t, for me, the deaths, but the mounting desperation of those left behind, and in particular Dawn, Edith’s mother, who locks the house’s doors in a bid to quarantine the family curse. In reopening those rooms, you are allowing that pent-up devastation to escape into the sunset, putting it behind you even as darkness falls.