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Gaming & Grief: 5 games that help us understand grief

Written by
Sarah Hook

Loss affects us all. Whether it was last year, today, or in ten years’ time. The way we grieve can be a complex and unique process. Many of us will follow the five stages:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Whether we do or we don’t, we all deal with grief and with loss in our own ways. Sometimes we need support to guide us through. That support can come in many shapes and sizes. It could be friends or family, registered support services, or even things like music, movies and video games.

National Grief Awareness Week

As part of TheGood Grief Trust’s National Grief Awareness Week, we’re supporting the campaign to #spreadsomewarmth. Their vision is simple: 

  • To raise awareness of the impact of grief
  • To create a unified voice for all bereavement support services
  • To raise awareness of the breadth of support we have in the UK

They want to normalise grief and get the public talking to break the taboo, ensure grief becomes an easier topic to discuss, and to provide guidance of what to say and do to help.

Gaming and Grief

A famous Wizard once said “happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” For us, support can be found in more ways than one.

We’ve always taken pride in empowering gamers and enhancing your experience. However, we want to take a moment to shine a light on how gaming can empower us and help us through our own experiences of grief and loss.

Whether it’s escaping reality, seeking solace in similar themes, or resonating with a character like it’s one long warm hug; here’s five times video games helped us understand grief.

5) Ori and the Blind Forest / Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Who said Pixar were the only production house on the planet who deliver messages-in-bottles to children and adults? The Ori series is the perfect place to explore how loss affects us and how we can use those around us to overcome grief.  

On a surface level, you play through the tale of Ori, an orphaned creature left to explore and restore the forest’s three main elements:waters, winds and warmth. On a deeper level, it deals with experiencing death from a young age and how profound that can be.  

Across the franchise, Ori experiences grief in a number of ways from the loss of loved ones to experiencing failure. Throughout the journey the two games take you on, Ori is guided through grief with the support of their friends. It highlights just how important a warm hug from a friend or a coffee with a family member can be.

Whether you’re playing this platformer at the age of eight or eighty, there’s a message here for us all.

4) Dear Esther

Navigating the five stages of grief can often feel like running through a labyrinth. You can often get lost, tripping over your own thoughts trying to find a way back.

Dear Esther is a deep and dark first-person adventure game which explores this, ultimately asking you as the player to create your own understanding of not just its story, but of grief, too.

Your only objective is to explore an island in the Hebrides in Scotland. Your adventure is narrated by the letters of a troubled man to his deceased wife.  

As you move around, you’ll learn more about her death whilst discovering derelict buildings, shipwrecks, and caves. You’ll even spot distant figures disappearing. As the game progresses, characters become more blurred and you're left to piece together this puzzle.

Just as our narrator processes his grief through letters, Dear Esther allows us to understand – and explore – grief as an island. There’s always something to find, if only we let it find us.

3) Animal Crossing: New Horizons

It’s no secret that Animal Crossing is a favourite of ours.We love spending hours crafting and designing our island communities from the ground up. It’s the boredom buster we all needed when the pandemic first hit.

Released during the initial lockdowns, Animal Crossing: NewHorizons came at a time when we couldn’t all collectively grieve the loss of loved ones. Funerals were prohibited, and friends were kept away by social distancing guidelines. But through this beautiful game, so many have found solace in being able to celebrate and remember those we’ve lost.

If you craft it, they will come. Almost every object imaginable can be made in Animal Crossing and that includes a tombstone. Those who couldn’t attend funerals for their loved ones held their own with lovingly crafted in-game memorials. This included creating personalised gardens and monuments.

Gamers invited friends and family who play the game to attend and found comfort and warmth in a virtual community.

2) Journey

National Grief Awareness Week is all about breaking the taboo around grief. It’s about encouraging us to reach out for support. It’s about finding comfort in sharing the load and normalising those moments.

Journey allows us to do that. It’s a wordless story where you travel across a vast desert to a mountain range as a mysterious robed figure. As you progress, you’ll learn about the rise and fall of your civilisation.

You’ll come across different players temporarily connected to your game where you cannot communicate beyond patterns of in-game singing. You can help, but you can’t hinder the other player.

In many ways, you can imagine the spirit of a loved one is playing the game with you. In turn, guiding you through your grief. Journey encourages us to trust in others, and to seek out support if and when we need it.

1) Apart Of Me

Whilst the rest of this list looks at games that encourage and empower you to deal with grief in different ways, Apart of Me was specifically made as a therapeutic tool for grief.

Designed to help young people cope with the death of a loved one, Apart of Me acts as a guide to help you navigate your grief. It is a safe space and a place where young people can understand their grief at a pace that suits them, remember those they’ve lost, and hear from others who know what it’s like.

In the game, you visit a peaceful island where you’ll meet friendly faces and complete quests that are designed to help you with coping. Collecting gems unlock interactive breathing exercises whilst messages on beaches explain death customs in different cultures.

You can learn more about National Grief Awareness Week and The Good Grief Trust here.

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