Edith Finch Was An Interesting Game
SPOILERS FOR "WHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH"
I especially love when games either allow you to pick it up and put it down seamlessly (like fighting games, or short-level platformers), or when their content is compact and impactful enough to get through in a few sittings. One thing that I've found out in college is that there are so many amazing tiny games out there. A lot of visual novels/story games with amazing art and an impactful story that you can do in about two or three hours (like "Beginner's Guide", which was amazing and surprisingly integrated with the fact that it was a game, and not a movie). Or little experience-based games like "You Used To Be Someone" that really makes you feel like your a depressed college student living off of their parents' income wandering the street in search any kind of feeling. These games are really cool because they are experiments in storytelling that give the recipient of the story a role in that story. Sometimes that role is just the role of an observer, but even then, an active observer, who has to move their feet to walk through the flow of the story and can't float along, is a really interesting construct.
That said, "What Remains of Edith Finch" kinda pissed me off, despite being exactly that kind of game. In general, when people talk about "player agency" in games, they are talking about being able to influence the story of the game through gameplay (note: "story" includes things like the shape of the terrain, so it includes things like "Minecraft"). In a game that does not have an interactive environment beyond point and click (an "active observer"-type game), how does this manifest? Personally, I've seen it implemented as influencing the movement through the "story tree" of the game. In dating sims, this would be influencing how much the different potential romance targets like you, until you finally pick a branch and kiss and do the whole shebang. But Edith Finch's story has no branches. It only has loops. You can take optional detours that bring you back to the exact place you left. In principle this is not a bad thing, and I actually really liked it. I thought it was really thematically consistent, since the point was that everyone in the family was doomed in some way or another.
But there's always one choice that the player can make in a story tree, even if there are no branches, and that's to stay still. In Edith Finch, there is one tangent story that asks you to reenact the gruesome death of a kid who flies off of a swing, off of a cliff, and into the ocean. From context, you know what's going to happen. Regardless, the game makes you painstakingly swing back and forth to get enough height until the death is triggered. I sat there, still, for a long time. Since I was not the character that was going to die, and I knew what was going to happen, I could not, in good conscience, start swinging. If I hadn't given up and just did it to keep thet story moving, I would not have seen the rest of the game. I found this very confusing. Was I supposed to understand that the kid wanted to die? If so, what the heck are you doing making me play out a suicide from first person? Was I supposed to not know what was coming and fall into it unsuspecting? Maybe? I don't really know the right answer here, and maybe there isn't one. But I would have personally felt much less disgusted with myself if I had been the wind or the tree or literally anything other than the one character in the scene who had to make the death happen, knowing full well what would happen.