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Major spoilers for What Remains of Edith Finch

Butch:

Ok, so did, what….last thing I did was Sam, the hunter where you had the camera the whole time. So did Barbara (the comic one, which was very well done), Calvin (the rather harrowing one where you had to swing), Walter (the fascinating one where you’re underground), did the viewfinder one where the house sinks, walked through the cemetery, found out Edith was pregnant (didn’t expect that).

Not bad.

This game has me pondering.

There IS food imagery everywhere! Calvin dies as his mother is calling him in for dinner. Walter dies as he is looking forward the most to the food. Barbara…what…dies? as monsters eat her. But the metaphor I haven’t figured out. Calvin dies because he doesn’t stop doing the fun, exciting thing to go do the rather mundane, scheduled task of eating what we can guess is boring food. Walter dies because his routine of boredom and predictable trains roaring by gets broken, and he dares to dream a bigger dream. Is the game saying “Dude, go in when your mother calls. Eat your damn apricots and be happy?” Seems rather dark.

What’s your spoiler free take?

Mechanically, I find it very interesting (and harrowing) that this game takes the usual way we play games and flips it. In most games, if you know, I mean KNOW, that doing something will get you killed, you do not do it. In this game, you know, you KNOW, that everything you’re doing is marching closer to getting killed. You know that Calvin is going to swing to high, and yet you swing. You know that, as soon as you see train tracks, what the monster is and that Walter is gonna die. Sam was an interesting twist because I didn’t know how he was gonna die, and was surprised when he did. All the same, every stick move is “Yeah, yeah, I know, here’s the part where we die….” and that’s an oddity in a game.

I’d even say this is different from RDR2, a game where you know Arthur is gonna die from the minute he coughs (brag brag brag). Sure, in a sense, every action there is towards Arthur’s death, but you still spend about twelve billion hours trying to keep Arthur alive. There’s plenty of fights and stuff where your play saves Arthur THEN. This game, there ain’t anything you can do but swing.

Which is weird. And certainly part of a metaphor.

It seems a depressing game.

What was your take on it up to now? NO SPOILERS!!!

Feminina:

Oh, see, I tried to look down at myself early in the game and couldn’t see my feet because there’s a round belly in the way, and I thought “is she pregnant?” And then the line “these passageways were meant for smaller hands and bellies” was another hint.

On the food imagery, I think it’s kind of that food is life. Chasing food, like Molly in her possibly-poisonous-berry-induced vision, is wanting to live (and sometimes, if we eat the wrong thing, it kills us).

Not wanting to go in to eat dinner is (metaphorically) not being interested in living. (“He always said he’d die before he’d eat another stewed mushroom,” or whatever.) These stories are full of death, and so they’re also full of the life that the characters are leaving/losing.

That’s my theory, anyway.

And yeah, I think the variation in the way the stories are presented is really cool. The comic book was both cheesy and creepy in a really interesting way. And seeing the passage of time by how Walter’s hands change as he opens his daily can of peaches was nicely done.

I did kind of wonder why we didn’t ever see any other mention of the fact that a train used to run pretty close to the house until, apparently…the tracks collapsed? Or something? After he died? Because when you walk out along the tracks (very carefully along the edge in my cases, just in case another train came), they end abruptly going out over the water. But I suppose the details of the Orcas Island train schedule weren’t important to the family’s stories, so why would it be in there?

It’s not as much about detail as it is about mood.

Butch:

Whoa, berries? I missed that. I’ve been wondering what the hell killed Molly. We’ve been pretty clear in a lot of these things. That would explain a lot.

Oh right! “He’d die before he ate…” Nice pick up. But do you read that as not interested in living, but MORE interested? After all, we’ve talked on how the food in the house, the life the house is offering if we take your read (which I like), is boring as hell. Salmon forever. Maybe Chinese. The story starts with Edith in the kitchen talking about how boring the food was. That’s the first thing we get in the house. Let’s face it: Stewed mushrooms are nasty. Calvin was a dreamer: he wanted to be an astronaut, wanted to fly. That’s not someone who isn’t interested in living. That’s someone who wants more than canned salmon.

There was also a nice touch in Barbara’s: here we have a kid who was entertaining others, right? I found it interesting, in light of all the food stuff, that she started her story (at rock bottom), obviously working as a waitress at a diner. She was in her work uniform. So, Barbara, in her time of failure (or perceived failure), was someone who gave food to others. I’m still pondering that, too.

I still don’t see how Sam fits in, though. Can’t remember anything foody in his, and it was the last one I did so I was looking.

Very creative stuff here, though. I’ll add the camera to that, as well. (By the way, did you fail the first time Sam set the timer? I didn’t get up there in time, and he was all “Hold on, I have to reset the timer.” So you had to rush up to your death. Hmm.)

I think Walter’s story was one of the best little moments/mini stories I can remember in a game in a long, long time. That was damn near perfect. The details, the wondering what the monster was before you realize it was the train, the fact I couldn’t, at first, figure out how to leave and tried to go out the “window” and saying “Oh, right…fake….,” knowing, I mean KNOWING that he’s going to get hit by a train and having that foreboding set in at the same time his hope is rising (a time when that player/PC disconnect really, REALLY worked. That’s usually a bad thing, but not here), even realizing that he was the “mole man” that Edie gave an interview about. Great stuff.

HA! I did the same thing on the tracks, the “oh shit, is a train coming?” thing. Tried to do it as Walter, too. I wonder if they expected you to do that.

Yeah….don’t overthink it much. I mean, dude, the whole premise is the family’s original house SANK when they tried to bring it from Norway. Little suspension of disbelief.

Indeed, more about mood. Though, mood aside, I’d like to get some connection metaphorwise as to what the game is trying to say, or at least what the game is trying to make us think about. Is it saying “stay home, eat the salmon, do anything else you’ll likely die?” Or is it saying “Hey, good on Calvin and Walter for having the guts to get out there! You gotta try to eat the good stuff even if it kills you?” Or something? I don’t know yet.

But I’m not finished.

I’ll be disappointed if all this stays as disjointed as it currently is, theme wise.

Feminina:

That’s a good point, that food, which is life, is also seen as sometimes very dull. Death–something beyond life–is potentially more interesting. There’s something out there…if you swing up into space, or wander out onto the train tracks…something MORE than the dullness of canned salmon and canned peaches and stewed mushrooms and the same Chinese restaurant food over and over. (Or, even with home cooking, the same recipes from multiple copies of the same cookbooks, over and over.)

But Molly, yeah, one of the first things she ate, when she was still wandering around the room as herself, was the berries from the holly on the windowsill. Gerbil food, toothpaste, holly berries. And I thought “that can’t be good…”

Butch:

Oh right, the holly berries. The toothpaste. That makes sense now. I guess we can assume that killed her then, right?

Now that I think on it (as I had forgotten the toothpaste), this kid was HUNGRY. I mean, think of how hungry you’d have to be to want to eat gerbil food and toothpaste. The kid was starving. This was a kid who wasn’t being fed enough dinner. This was also a kid who did not do what normal kids do when they wake up starving: this kid did not just go downstairs and get a cookie or bug their parents or something. Indeed, while playing it, I was thinking “This kid must have bad parents,” as she was displaying the actions of a neglected kid, right?

So here’s a kid that’s being deprived of food, of life, in this house. Again. It’s either boring food or no food at all.

Which doesn’t seem like much of an endorsement of nice, normal living.

Also, on this food is life bent….

That gives another twist to Molly’s “I will be delicious” ending. That, if you squint, becomes less of a fear and more of an aspiration. “I will be interesting.”

Hmm.

Feminina:

Ah, yes! I will be a rich, fascinating, interesting life. For the devouring monster, that is also me. Hm.

Butch:

Right! It’s circular, but it’s also….maybe not hopeful, but certainly not scared. Indeed, one of the things that made that line scary (before it was clear that we’d be having some degree of food metaphor) was how UNscared she sounded. A kid not being scared of something scary is creepy. That’s a horror trope as old as horror. I just kinda thought that her delivery of that line was just to be creepy, but maybe not.

It wouldn’t be the only time in the game where the line between creepy and not was blurry, at best. Take the “mole man.” At first, you think “Pfft. Made up.” Then you realize “This game is weird…IS there a mole man?” Then “Ah, there is…but it’s just Walter.” Then you think “But isn’t THAT a little creepy?”

Take the “monster” by Walter. You think, at first, “What is that? Is it REALLY a monster?” Then “No, just a train.” Then “WAIT THAT TRAIN’S GONNA KILL HIM!”

Back and forth.

As you said, the comic was a great mix of creepy (there were some very creepy bits) and cheesy to the point of you being slightly embarrassed you found it creepy at all.

On this, last night, the kids were watching some of it, and, at the comic book part, a third of the way in or so, Junior says “I thought you said this wasn’t a horror game?” And I said “It’s not. Well, I didn’t think it was….no, it isn’t. I think.” Sums it up.

And I think they’re saying something with that, too, but I’m pondering what.

Feminina:

Good points, also, on how the game is about doing things you know are going to lead to your (or the player-character-in-that-moment’s) death at any moment. The precise opposite of what we usually do in games.

Whee, I’m going to keep swinging higher and higher even though I know I’m going to die! Yes, I’m going to walk along these tracks reflecting on how great it will be to have even one hour of life that’s different from the routine of the last 30 years, even though the train is obviously going to come hit me! I will certainly keep poking around this comic-book-horror-house, even though I know something will eventually kill me!

And I didn’t fail on that one, but it’s very interesting that if you miss the shot of Sam’s death, you have to go back and reset the timer. You have to get the timing right, on your own death. What a detail.

Butch:

Right! A good detail, but also an important one for the gameplay. Unlike, say, I dunno, the “epilogue” in RDR2, you are not propelled ahead by the game here. In the “epilogue,” had you put down the controller during the peppy nailing up the house bit to go make a sandwich, that house was still going up. Here, you have to take action to move things ahead. It wasn’t just the photo. I took a while to get what the hell I had to do on the swing set, and the game patiently waited for me to figure it out so I could take the actions I knew would lead to a bad outcome. Had I put the controller down, Calvin would still be there. Had I put the controller down during Walter’s walk on the track, the train wouldn’t have come. Had I kept not getting the timing right for the photo, Sam would’ve made it.

Hmm.

Feminina:

Well…yes, in gameplay terms the way we’re used to thinking of games, they would have ‘made it’ if we hadn’t played them to their deaths.

But the game itself is so explicitly a series of stories being read/experienced by someone else that I think even in the game, the characters would no more have survived if we hadn’t played it, than Romeo and Juliet would have survived if we refused to finish reading the play. It’s framed as stories about things that already happened, that Edith is learning but that she has no power to alter.

Now, if we refused to finish playing the game, could we say that Edith never finished learning these stories? By game logic, yes. She depends on us to move forward. But I feel like the internal stories are meant to be experienced by Edith as past events: she can’t change them, and neither can we. All we can do bear witness, in a sense, to the weird, sad history of this family and the moments of wonder and horror in their lives.

Butch:

True, but it is a very deliberate decision not to take control away from the player. We often beat witness, through cutscenes or through a false sense of participation (see Red Dead) in games, but not here. We don’t just bear witness, we have to do it.

Sure, Romeo and Juliet still die if you leave at intermission, but they don’t say “someone needs to stab now…can we have a volunteer from the audience? Yes you, long red hair, come on up.” This game is doing that.

Feminina:

Yeah…it’s more like in that Uncharted where Sam showed up, and we played through his whole prison escape sequence which was not only in the past, but later turned out to be a lie. But we still had to play it! THAT was an interesting twist.

Butch:

Ooo! I had forgotten that!

Ps plus has come through again. Good bloggage here, and I doubt we would’ve played this left to our own devices.

That said, I’ll finish up ASAP. AC:O arrived.

How much longer I got?

Feminina:

Not long. Maybe an hour? There are only a few stories left. You’re at least half done, maybe a bit more.

Butch:

Not surprising. When I was climbing out of the cemetery, Meatball goes, matter of factly, “this is the endgame.” I say, “what?” And, in that cheery know it all voice six year olds have, he says “when there’s moody music and you’re going up, that’s the endgame!”

He’s got a point.

Feminina:

Ha! Moody music and upward motion…check.

But yeah, there aren’t many rooms left. I think just Edith’s mom’s brothers, and Edith’s brothers, unless someone is slipping my mind. Which is entirely possible.

Oh, and back to the question of inevitability and having to play through things when we know the ending, etc., I wonder if maybe it’s kind of replicating Edith’s experience.

She wants to know how the story ends because she wants to know what happened to her family members, so she’s kind of the forward momentum for us in the mini-stories, even as we’re the forward momentum for her in progressing in the larger game. Maybe we-the-player could ‘save’ the character in the internal story by not playing through to the point where he or she died, but Edith doesn’t WANT us to do that, because she wants to know what happened. (And so do we, of course, but her family connection makes it more personal.)

Hm.

Butch:

Well, now that I look at AC:O, I figure I can take more time. No nudity.

Feminina:

I’m not surprised, since Assassin’s Creed has never really given us much of that. I think we saw Caterina Sforza in the bath or something in AC2, but that was a long time ago.

Take your time. The fully clothed Greek warriors with knives for everyone will be waiting.

Butch:

So playing as the hot woman, though. You can choose! And, well, you know me.

Feminina:

Indeed. I will play as the woman too, just because I want to show appreciation for all the extra work that went into animating her.

It’s possible that someday we will stop needling Ubisoft for that comment. Possible.

Butch:

Hey, that’s why I’m playing as the hot woman. The only reason.

Yup.

That.

 

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