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‘He Died a Lot’: Gothic Gameplay in What Remains of Edith Finch

Death, Culture & Leisure: Playing Dead

ISBN: 978-1-83909-038-7, eISBN: 978-1-83909-037-0

Publication date: 20 August 2020

Abstract

This chapter explores how the narrative-based walking simulator What Remains of Edith Finch ludifies traditions of Gothic fiction. Combining Gothic themes of death, the family and the family curse, the game involves the protagonist investigating her abandoned childhood home where every family member died a dramatic and untimely death. Sealed rooms, preserved since their inhabitants’ demise, contain shrine-like displays including a document of some form allowing players to experience the last moments of each Finch. Play involves penetrating these spaces, according to the ludo-Gothic emphasis on boundary crossing, piecing together interactive narrative fragments consistent with Gothic fiction’s patchwork storytelling. In accessing each lost manuscript, players engage in a generically specific process of multi-media trans-subjectivity, experiencing various first person perspectives and engaging with numerous gameplay interfaces. The title’s series of ambiguous unreliable narratives, its refusal of a consistent subjective position, and unreal dream-like sensation contribute to the game’s Gothic atmosphere. In a restriction of videogame agency and control, consistent with horror games, no player option is available other than to complete each pre-determined death. Gothic pastiche, a compulsion to repeat the past, and the embalming processes of photographic media are variously employed across these sequences. Play evokes the melancholy heroine, consumed by maternal loss, masochistically replaying her family’s sorrowful past, hunting for lost objects and exhuming the ghosts of her history. With its nested narrative, morbid preoccupation and ambivalent supernatural presence, the game effectively translates Gothic traditions into the videogame medium.

Keywords

Citation

Kirkland, E. (2020), "‘He Died a Lot’: Gothic Gameplay in What Remains of Edith Finch", Coward-Gibbs, M. (Ed.) Death, Culture & Leisure: Playing Dead (Emerald Studies in Death and Culture), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 95-107. https://doi.org/10.1108/978-1-83909-037-020201014

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020 Ewan Kirkland