I wish I had something coherent to say about What Remains of Edith Finch: it’s a rather striking game, I just can’t put my finger on why?

Which, maybe, is a reflection of the game itself: it’s more a collection of little games than a single game itself, so why should I expect myself to be able to write about it coherently? We were talking about it last week in the VGHVI Symposium; coming in, if I’d thought about it much I would have labeled Edith Finch as a walking simulator, but once you get past the introduction, that label really doesn’t fit: the walking simulator part of it is a frame story, the internal games built on ancestor’s stories are foregrounded much more.

I actually wonder if the initial story is intended to explicitly play with that concept: Edith Finch isn’t a walking simulator, it’s a scampering-along-branches simulator, a flying simulator, a slithering simulator! (There are a lot of control schemes in the game.)


Another question which the first story explicitly asks is: how much of what you experience is real, how much is a hallucination or otherwise imagined? To be honest, that question is not entirely to my taste: I like works of art that don’t put boundaries between the realistic and the fantastic, and when confronted with such a work (Totoro, say), I take it as it is: it generally doesn’t cross my mind to even wonder how I should be interpreting the fantastic segments in light of the non-fantastical aspects of the world. Though that initial story is somewhat of an outlier in that regard in Edith Finch; I’m happy to see that story as a source of questions for people who want to approach the game in a mood of figuring out what really happened in the situations represented by the stories we see (and, for that matter, what really happened in the family outside of the stories), without emphasizing the question so much to people like me who aren’t in the mood to grapple with such questions.

Which reinforces my hypothesis from before: the game encourages an impressionistic approach, throwing off handholds that you can choose to grasp or to leave behind, that you can choose to link or to let stand alone.


To be clear, that doesn’t mean that there’s not real substance in the Edith Finch. It touches on some pretty serious subjects; and some of those subjects are ones that, frankly, are ones that I’m not entirely sure I want to spend too much time confronting directly in art this summer. Sometimes, that means that I’m seeking out art works that avoid those topics; sometimes it means that I’m engaging with art works that confront them more directly and wishing that I hadn’t.

But Edith Finch’s more oblique approach has a real virtue for me: it approaches subjects lightly, making those subjects available should I choose to engage with them, but also letting me gracefully skirt around them as I choose, acknowledging their presence but letting me keep as much detachment as I wish.


It’s a very impressive second game. The Unfinished Swan had a neat mechanical idea at its core, but while I was glad that it was trying to approach a serious theme, I wasn’t so sure about the way it approached that theme or even the choice of them itself. Edith Finch shows that neither the mechanical inventiveness nor the desire to confront real issues was a fluke; with it, I think the studio is really starting to put something together.

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