What Remains of Edith Finch is a hit on the table that reminds us of the potential of the video game and how relevant it can be.

This story begins with a trip aboard a ship. The lash of the waves, the noise of the engine and the squawking of the seagulls are our only companions, and in the background we can recognize an island that seems our destination. Next to us, on the bench, a backpack, and on our thighs a bouquet of white calla lilies and a notebook. This little sequence might seem like the beginning of What Remains of Edith Finch, but it doesn’t really start until we open that notebook, and we couldn’t even consider it an introduction, a premise, because it is simply a nexus: the true starting point that we placed within a context appears the first time we pause the game. Interestingly, that pause screen is also shaped like an open notebook, and on it is a double-page drawing: literally, a family tree of the Finch family in which a double date is written just below each name. And above all, Edith, the only one without a second date. The only one left alive.

Accompanied by a solemn melody, this leisurely game has much to tell us, and it does so in a matter of seconds. Through the environmental narrative, which he will make use of throughout the story, and in this case through a specific drawing, the work puts us in a situation and conditions us for the next three hours, and does so through a section or fragment which may not be considered part of the game itself. Recalling what Firewatch did, which articulated a small introduction in text form, What Remains of Edith Finch raises a sad, painful and emotionally intense premise through the pause, a video game tool that, not only is not usually part of the work, but its function is to stop it in its tracks. You pause the game and suddenly the interface is telling you a story as incomplete as it is overwhelming, in a matter of seconds. The initial idea itself is powerful in itself, but presenting it in this way generates a surprise effect on the player that intensifies the impact and strength of emotions in an incredible way. And f**k, this is just the beginning.

In conventional pause screens we usually find useful information for the player, and one of the most common practices is to press that button and find a map. Adapted to how the game is played and the information that we are going to handle, the genealogical tree of the Finch family is nothing more than a reinterpretation of the map: during the game, we will explore the old house where this family has always lived, and as we discover small stories about each of the family members, we will have to consult that drawing, as if it were a map, to clearly identify who each one is and what position they occupy in the chain. And those little stories, those that are told only with the presence of a mountain of books or a table without picking up, that way of narrating through the environment, the objects that are in it, and what they evoke, that interaction already so characteristic of the video game, it derives directly from something as everyday and familiar as memory.

Many moments of our life, especially the most important ones for us, are closely linked to a signifier, an image, an object, a word, or a sound that reminds us of that conversation, that walk or that hug. They are direct stimuli that when received, transport us directly to that moment and that place, no matter how far away it may be. In the Finch house we will discover a hundred small memories of each member of the family, tender, happy and painful memories at the same time, those that appear when we relive moments lived with someone who is no longer there. We live that longing, that characteristic nostalgia, through Edith, a teenager familiar with loss and with enviable strength. We will get used to his voice, because during many stretches his thoughts will be reflected on the scene acting as the narrator, and each and every one of the interventions (and not only his) is written with a precision and a more than remarkable skill, being next to the stage, an impressive approach to reality. That house, which is just as they left it the night they left it, is full of objects placed almost in a baroque way, and among the wine bottles, the cans of preserves, and the cartons of Chinese food, it knows how to stand out. subtle those that carry more narrative load, from a family photo, a music box, or a copy of El Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges, transmitting the sensation of being in the authentic home of a large family.

Thanks to Edith herself coming to the house to discover a lot of stories that she did not know, the genre has never managed to create such a close link between the experiences of the player and those of the protagonist, who is experiencing with astonishing accuracy the same as us, and even explicitly mentions that “even the bricks in the fireplace had a history.” In our day-to-day life, if there is something that comes close to that sensation of remembering, of relating an object to a situation already experienced and reliving it completely in a matter of milliseconds, it is reading. When we read, by the nature of the medium, we are forced to do our part and use our imagination to put together the pieces that words give us on paper. If what we are reading is really valuable for our brain, it generates a feeling of isolation, and despite the fact that we are only reading sentences, one after another, the immersion and the capacity of the brain to abstract itself is such that it transports us directly to that world. This relationship between reading and memory is the common thread that Edith will pull to discover the truth about her family, and she will do so in an exceptional way.

The really impressive thing about What Remains of Edith Finch is how it exceeds all our expectations using tools and mechanics typical of the video game, offering a spectacular playable experience (exploring the house), but that is relegated to the background thanks to the excellence it achieves when we relive part of the lives of the relatives. By interacting with certain objects, many of them letters or notebooks like ours, we come to have control of the person to whom it belonged: a few lines of reading or a few images are enough for both Edith and ourselves to relive that moment and let us be transported to that time and to that place. Many of these reminiscences are an extraordinary playable exercise and incredibly consistent with the story that is to be told and through whom it will be told. It is not the same what a one-year-old baby lives playing in the bathtub, a thirteen-year-old flying a kite, or a twenty-two-year-old boy working in a factory, and for that reason, each of the memories is mechanically different, because each one wants to convey very specific ideas and emotions, based on each one’s own perception of the world, in relation to their age, occupation, character, or environment, that is, their circumstances. All this, achieved using the tools of the video game, with an enviable mastery, and always counting on the player to place him in the role of each character: playing each memory, we live it under the skin of its protagonist, and at the same time relive it under Edith’s skin, which as for us, is a completely new story that we are reading for the first time.

In his article Video Games Are Better Without Stories for The Atlantic, Ian Bogost, theorist, teacher and essayist specializing in video games, says that one of the things What Remains to Edith Finch does best is “to teach us the delicious curiosity that can be generated when stories, games, comics, graphics engines, virtual environments – and anything, in fact – can be unexpectedly separated and put back together. ‘ This virtue is just one of many that make this work something immense, but without a doubt they all have something in common: that they converge in a universal meaning, in a message as important as it is revealing; a cry of rage and hope, a reminder of what we have in hand, of how much it is capable of transcending, of the fidelity with which it is capable of evoking and transmitting complex emotions, and ultimately, of the possibilities that the video game has as means, medium. A knock on the table.