15 Games About Death and GriefPosted: 17 Mar 2023
In this article we’ll be highlighting a number of games which tackle death, grief and loss in the narratives that they tell.
Spoiler Warning: Please note that there will be spoilers within this article mentioned regarding to their justification on this list. Please continue with caution!
Spiritfarer is described as a “cosy management game about dying”, with the protagonist tasked with helping lost souls in the afterlife move on and process their past.
As you nurture your passengers by fulfilling their requests, giving them hugs, or feeding them their favourite meal – the player has a unique opportunity to work through the process of loss and grief in a way that is ultimately very comforting and rewarding.
What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch is a short 2 hour experience of a series of tales centered around the mysterious Finch family. The game tackles the themes of sadness and loss, by showing us that each individual has a story to tell and are not defined by the curse that caused them to pass away.
“Death is something that those who play video games are incredibly used to; if you’re Nathan Drake and you miss a jump ahead of you, the punishment is the loss of a character’s life, only for you to succeed the same jump a few moments later after your checkpoint has reloaded. It’s a constant threat in most of the games that we play, but it rarely holds any true consequences. However, in ‘Edith Finch’ that is not the case; you can’t die in Edith Finch, but its story asks players to think about the messy nature of death and how grief has a habit of staying with us long after someone has passed.”
Gris is a hopeful young girl lost in her own world, dealing with a painful experience in her life. Her journey through sorrow is manifested in her dress, which grants new abilities to better navigate her faded reality. As the story unfolds, Gris will grow emotionally and see her world in a different way, revealing new paths to explore using her new abilities; a poetic allegory of learning and growing from loss.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
The emotional journey of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is certainly not one to be missed. This game has the unique gameplay of controlling each brother independently to solve puzzles collaboratively in order to progress the story.
Travel with the two brothers to seek support for their father who has fallen ill, and discover a touching tale along the way. Take a look at this fantastic article by Dr Emma Reay discussing how Brothers manipulates player emotions by manipulating their hands, through operational independent controls.
Aka approaches the subject of grief in a hopeful way as you seek to repair the damage of the past, and focuses on relaxation and mindfulness through mechanics such as being able to just take a seat by a pond and watch the fish for a while.
You can fully take your time with each aspect of the game, with no pressure to complete goals, no stamina or hunger: you need only to exist and live in the world it presents to you.
That Dragon, Cancer
That Dragon, Cancer was developed as a love letter to Joel Green, the developer’s son, and his experience with cancer. The game is deeply personal and encapsulates real audio and poetry within the gameplay.
As with a number of our games, this is a heavy play; despite being intertwined with themes of hope and love, I (Rosie) am yet to find someone who has played this and not been absolutely devastated.
Before Your Eyes
Before Your Eyes is an emotional first person narrative adventure which tells the story of a soul’s journey into the afterlife using your real-life blinks.
The story begins after Benny’s death, aboard the ship of a mythical Ferryman tasked with shepherding souls to the afterlife. In order to help you pass on, he must first learn the story of Benny’s life. And so, he sends them back to relive his most important moments.
Lost Words: Beyond the Page
Lost Words: Beyond The Page takes players on an emotional journey of love and loss. You play as Izzy, who’s grandma is unwell. Throughout the story, you’ll learn more via beautifully designed interactive diary entries. Players will also take part in a fantasy adventure written by Izzy with lots of personal choices to make along the way.
What Comes After
What Comes After (from the creators of Coffee Talk) is a story about Vivi, and the journey that takes her from where people go after death to what comes after. Make your way through the train, whilst you encounter souls of people, animals and plants that are on their own personal journeys leaving this world behind.
Last Day of June
Last Day of June is a touching representation of a person’s psyche during the process of grief.
After a tragic car accident take’s June’s life, her husband Carl is left alone and wheelchair-bound. Through June’s paintings, Carl explores that fateful day time and time again from a variety of perspectives – from the kid next door to the village eccentric. Carl clings on to this otherworldly ability to change seemingly innocuous events that took place that day, in order to try and change June’s fate.
The Unfinished Swan
The Unfinished Swan is a beautiful imagining of the the grieving process.
Monroe’s mother recently passed away and she was notorious for not finishing paintings she had started. His favourite, the Unfinished Swan, escapes its canvas and leads him on a path of self-discovery and understanding.
Dear Esther allows players to explore their own interpretation of their unique playing experience, and discover love, loss, guilt and redemption in this beautiful world. Driven by story and immersion rather than traditional mechanics, it’s an uncompromisingly emotional experience.
Welcome to Elk
‘Welcome To Elk’ presents a number of personal journeys that may be triggering to some players. Triple Topping handles each story with care and love and is done to educate players whilst doing justice to people’s experiences.
It has this way of drawing you in from the start, and it is an adventure that we recommend, but want to remind players to be aware of how hard-hitting the stories can be. It demonstrates the extremes that grief, mental health, and more can go – but they’re told in such a beautifully empathic and sympathetic way.
God of War
God of War tackles grief in a number of ways, with loss being an overarching theme throughout both God of War (2018) and Ragnarok. Without spoiling too much, almost all characters experience grief throughout the two games. Comparing the experiences of Gods vs humans shows just how remarkably similar loss can present itself within both, and allows for expansion of these iconic characters we know and love in a vulnerable state.
RiME is an adventure-puzzle game which follows a boy exploring a mysterious island, guided by a fox-like spirit companion. After a storm destroys his and his father’s boat, the boy discovers his father didn’t make it.
The game revolves around the boy’s journey climbing the island’s tower, with each area representing different stages of grief; reaching the top of the tower represents acceptance.
Whilst there are so many games that tackle grief as part of their experience, these are 15 great titles to start with if you’re looking to explore meaningful storylines relating to grief within video games.