Molly Finch died in 1947, a little while after her 10th birthday.
But Molly was much more than an anecdote about her untimely passing. She was a curious girl who loved animals. Once, she imagined that she was a cat that ran all over the roof of her house attempting to pounce on an elusive bird. Then she was an owl flying low to snatch up a few rabbits. Then a massive shark, sneaking through the water to snack on an otter. Finally, she was a monster! She ate up all of the sailors on a boat, weaving her tentacles in and out of the open doors of the ship’s cabin. Eventually, her monster made its way to her bedroom, swallowing her up in its embrace.
On its surface, What Remains of Edith Finch seems like a game about a family with a panache for dying in sudden and mysterious ways. The title character, Edith, returns to her family home a few months after the death of her mother to uncover the stories of her relatives. Her house is a strange and imposing amalgam of shacks stacked on top of one another. It’s almost comical in nature—something you might find in a Dr. Seuss book yet plopped on Orcas Island, replete with boats converted into rooms and books covering the walls, shoved into every cramped space available. The Finches themselves are a curious bunch—believing that their family is cursed, each member comes to a strange end.
As Edith makes her way through the family home, she encounters mementos that help her piece together stories of family members she never knew and discovers how they died. The answers are never straightforward, however. The mementos act as a way for the player to step into the shoes of the other family members and live out their final moments. Attempting a full circle on a swing with Calvin or living out a comic book horror fantasy as Barbara helps us to step into their shoes and see first hand the development of the Finch family through the generations.
What Remains of Edith Finch is not ultimately about death. Edith is on a journey of discovery about her family, which helps her better understand who she is. The deaths of her relatives are interesting, but better still is what she finds out about the impact of each person’s life on subsequent generations. We discover with Edith that none of us are individuals living in a vacuum without a context. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and we owe a debt to them, paid out in acts of thankfulness or forgiveness (sometimes both).
Families are messy. Edith’s family has met with bizarre circumstances that aren’t fully fleshed out by the end of the game. But that’s just like our own family histories, isn’t it? There are some mysteries in my own family that I still can’t pry out of my mother. I’ve had to piece together some semblance of the story of our people through inference. When my uncle Jeff was in high school, he and three friends were in a terrible car wreck a few miles outside of town. Three walked away with almost nothing to show for it. Jeff was killed immediately. To this day, I know very little about him—what he liked to do on the weekends, what he wanted to be when he grew up, who his girlfriend was. But his death deeply affected my mother and shaped our family.
So it is with Edith’s encounter with her own family tree. Through it, she discovers what makes her family her own—the people and events that led to where she is today. Without spoiling anything, I don’t think the game’s title is a reference to Edith’s corpse. Rather, it’s about Edith understanding the story that she inherits from her own family and being responsible for what she passes on to her own children. What remains is Molly imagining that she is a cat stalking a bird and Gregory playing with his rubber frog in the bath tub. What remains is for Edith to forgive her mother for not passing these stories down to her. In turn, we learn with Edith that we are more than our family’s past. We’re also products of it. Better to learn and forgive than remain ignorant and spiteful. Otherwise, what good could remain of that?