TGIF: May 12, 2017 – Mortality and Analytical Release in the Sublime “What Remains of Edith Finch?”

Despite what you may have heard, lawyers are, in fact, human beings with interests and hobbies all their own. They are not, I repeat not, robots sent from the future solely for the purpose of billing hours, drafting documents, and negotiating terms.  Not all of them anyway.  

In TGIF, I touch on some of my own interests primarily through the lens of the “Rules of the Game”, focusing on the rules and incentives that affect many aspects of our daily lives. I may even crack a joke or two. Hard to say.

TGIF will be published regularly on (surprisingly enough) Friday mornings. For more information, check out www.hoeglaw.com or drop Rick a line at rhoeg@hoeglaw.com.

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Believe it or not, “TGIF” did not start its life solely devoted to reviewing every dotted ‘i’ and crossed ‘t’ in the multinational airlines’ bag of tricks.  No, my intent with the series was to show that lawyers have interests both varied and wide…which of course means that I enjoy reviewing statutes, regulations, and contract terms of my own volition.  Of course.  Perhaps I doth protest too much.

But today, I turn to thoughts on one of my other loves, the oft-ridiculed “video game”. Though the term “game” seems too dismissive for the interactive experience I’d like to discuss today: Giant Sparrow’s What Remains of Edith Finch (Edith Finch from here on out).

But first, a story.

Last weekend, in a rare opportunity for parents of small-ish children, my wife and I made our way to the local cineplex to take in the sights and sounds of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”.   But, while Fleetwood Mac blared, Chris Pratt’s smile shined, and all manner of lasers, rainbow fire, and talking miniature trees did their best to elicit a reaction, I found myself in an unexpected position:  I was unmoved.

For 45 minutes or so in the movie’s interminable second act, I found myself wincing at jokes that didn’t land, rolling my eyes at drama that seemed a better fit for the CW, and sighing at every reference to various parts of the human anatomy.  To put this in perspective, I am not the guy that looks askance at super heroes or summer blockbusters.  I’ll talk for three hours on why “Speed Racer” is unfairly maligned, and for another two on why Disney’s first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film saved an entire genre. A movie like Guardians bouncing so harmlessly against my psyche was reason for worry.

And so, I reflected.

Perhaps, like Danny Glover so many years ago, I was simply getting “too old” for this stuff. “Get off my lawn!” I inwardly practiced, for the time when Gran Torino became my perspective on the world.  Perhaps, I simply no longer liked or enjoyed the popular culture.  There is always that fear that the next popular thing will be the last that clicks for you…before the millennials (or whatever comes after) ultimately take over.  Was this that time? Perhaps I was just depressed.  What was the last thing I really enjoyed?  Have I ever really enjoyed…anything?

Deep stuff for a guy who was supposed to be laughing his head off at turd jokes and an angry space raccoon.

It wasn’t until the end of the film when I was able to gauge my wife’s reaction, that I became more at peace with my own thoughts.  “You hated it,” she said.  “I could tell.”  But even though she had been as excited about seeing the film as anything, I could see that it had bounced off her as well.  “Pity about the first three-quarters of the movie,” she said.  “Though the end wasn’t bad.”  As we discussed more on the car ride home, it was apparent that we had both turned over the same existential checklist in our minds during the film (“Do I like this?”, “What does liking even mean?”), before arriving at a similar conclusion.

No, I’m fine.  It’s the movie that’s not. (YMMV)

While my opinion on the film has softened somewhat since then (hearing “The Chain” in your head for a solid week will have that effect), my conclusion was arrived at for one specific reason.  I still love things!  Lots of things!  Things aimed at the young (and not so young)!  And this week proved it with a game that I not only love, but one that reflects almost effortlessly on the nature of mortality, the beauty of life, and everything in-between (and in almost less running time than the Guardians): Edith Finch.

Mortality as Adventure Story

A Fractured Fairy Tale

Edith Finch belongs to a category of games sometimes derisively referred to as “walking simulators”.  With no enemies, scoreboards, or outward goals to speak of, players take on the titular role of Edith as she explores her childhood home over the course of a single eventful night.  But while that might sound like the most boring game of all time, Edith Finch is anything but.

Without spoiling too much, it is enough to know that the Finch family is a cursed one (or one that believes in curses in any event).  Virtually all of the Finches died young, and some in some pretty remarkable ways.  As players explore the fantastical Finch home, they gain more and more insight into the lives and losses of the Finches that came before, and all through the eyes of the person whose story is being told, moments before their passing.

And lest you find that premise too morbid, the big trick that Edith Finch pulls is that it tells each story (almost a dozen) with the same tinge of magical realism you might expect in a good campfire or Victorian ghost story.  One minute you may be experiencing life as a cat hunting birds in a tree, the next in a horror comic book narrated by a talking jack o’ lantern  (with the voice you might expect).  Each story plays with your expectations, and with its own gameplay style, but all end in exactly the same way: as life does.

There’s something to be said for lessons learned from ghost stories, fairy tales, or other takes on the otherworldly.  While more “serious” pieces of “art” might garner the accolades and respect, there is a barrier there, whether termed as “boredom” or “elitism”.  If that “important” work is impenetrable to me, I will never learn the lesson it seeks to impart.

There’s a reason Grimm’s was used to teach children with magic and monsters, and a reason Edith Finch approaches the concept of mortality with that same deft touch.

Analytical Release and the Sublime

Beauty in the Sublime

Towards the end of Edith Finch (no spoilers!), a character is promised answers to all of the many questions they must be asking.  As players move ever closer to those answers, expectations grow and grow to bursting.  Then, at the center of all things, with plot and dialogue and expectation all converging, the story, the framework itself…is ripped away. There are no answers here.

But this apparent anti-climax, as frustrating as it may initially be, is its own kind of thesis.  One that stands in perfect symbiosis with the game’s overall thoughts on death, mortality, and what it means to be alive.  Mystery is its own reward, the game says.  See the beauty in the unexplained.  Our time is too short, our experience too limited, to understand it all.  If death is around every corner, what choice do you have but to take in the wonder and awe.

While the above may sound trite (and it would be in the context of a fortune cookie or a Disney after school special), after experiencing the lives and loves of the entire Finch clan over the course of several hours, after seeing them through your own eyes, the closing moments can feel as a thunderbolt.  Life, death, mortality, hope, change, all mixed into one giant emotional stew.

Games often get criticized for not being capable of true “art”, but in Edith Finch it is the act of playing, of interacting with its world and all it represents, that delivers its message so powerfully.

That’s a trick I’ve yet to see any film or book match.

Recommendation

Play Edith Finch.

Word of the Week – Sublime

Producing an overwhelming sense of awe or other high emotion through being vast or grand

“Though unexpected, the most profound meditations on death must almost necessarily reflect the sublime beauty of life.”

Again, play Edith Finch.

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Thanks for stopping by.  Want to tell me how wrong I am?  How right? Feel free to leave a comment down below, and be sure to check out the rest of Rules of the Game and www.hoeglaw.com for legal insights, commentary, and (hopefully) helpful articles.

Have a great Friday everybody!

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