Rime’s Helpful but Harmful Formulaic Depiction of Grief

SPOILER WARNING: I spoil the entirety of Rime in this article.

In May of 2017 I lost my friend to a car accident. It was a very rough month and I haven’t been the same since. It opened my eyes to loss and made me seek answers about my views on the world and life itself. My first reaction to this loss was immense grief and regret, I became disinterested in everything that I used to enjoy, especially video games. Rime was releasing around the same time and I was anticipating it for years prior. Without knowing anything about the story, I dived into a game about a child’s struggle with grief and the loss of his father, it was a therapy I didn’t ask for, but really needed.

Rime is separated into sections representing the Kübler-Ross model’s five stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While going through each part, I was relating to this broken child that had everything taken from him. In the early stages of the game, Enu, the little boy, sees his cloaked father appear throughout the island, reminding me of the times where my friend would appear in my dreams and give me the hope that I would wake up and the world would be a better place. Then I saw the anger represented by a bird trying to take him into its claws and fly off with him, reminding me of the times I was mad at myself for not reconnecting with my friend before she passed away. Everything was making sense and helping me cope with this tragic loss.

In the bargaining stage, the child relies on these robotic friends that he creates to lead him through the level. The what ifs, the deals with God, and everything else I went through for that whole month hoping that I would get better. I started believing that if I reconnected with her, maybe I could have changed something that night, knowing that it was a complete stretch to think that I could have stopped any of this from happening. The nights where I would speak to the God I don’t know if I believe in just hoping that I could reach her in some way and tell her about my regrets and how I wish I could’ve attended her funeral, but instead had to take the ridiculous standardized tests that high school focuses so heavily on. I was doing everything I could to make myself happier, and give me the closure I needed.

Then I got to the next section, which had me in tears upon completion. Rime’s depiction of the depression stage is spot-on. Enu used to be able to whistle and seemed like he had some happiness and hope left in him, but at this point the only thing that comes out of him is wails and there are parts where he collapses in front of doors, crying while his fox friend consoles him. This was the stage I was in while playing Rime, and I simply could not take it. This was too well designed. The darkness, the despair, the heavy rainfall, the destruction around him, the scary menacing figures wanting to keep him in the depression. Everything was so beautifully well crafted.

Acceptance was the stage that gave me hope that it will all get better. I was grieving with Enu, we both lost someone important to us and we were going through this struggle together. During the acceptance stage, Enu climbs an upside down tower to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. The acceptance stage where everything would fundamentally change. Seeing this, and seeing the end twist when it was actually the father that lost his son, made everything so much better for me, it gave me hope that I was near the end of this journey of grief.

I finished Rime with a bittersweet smile on my face, believing that everything was going to be okay, and it was! Well…it was for a while. Grief isn’t this linear process that the Kübler-Ross model makes it out to be. The date of my friend’s passing always brings out the depression stage. Then I start thinking about if things were different, then I get angry that they are not different. I reexamine my beliefs of higher powers, and then I do it all over again the next time.

The first time the feelings of depression came back, I felt betrayed. I felt like I should have been taught better from this game and that we need a better representation of grief. There is no happy ending, but there is gaining knowledge about the subject. There is the death positive movement where you can learn about various aspects of death and funerals, and there are ways to make the process of grief easier. You don’t have to rely on some sort of therapeutic game to learn about what you are going through, because you aren’t going to go through the same process as everyone else.

So how can video games tackle this issue without giving players that false hope of this model? How can they depict grief in a way that doesn’t end with happiness or one final moment of throwing away all of your grief, how can we depict opening our mind to the struggle of grief and the many forms that it may take the shape of? How do we encourage death positivity and to encourage players to learn more about death itself to help them get a better understanding of the world and what life and death are? I don’t have the answers, but it is certainly not relying on this model of grief.

That said, cultural views on grief differ greatly, and America does an incredibly bad job at talking about death and grief. People often do not know what to say to support people through the grieving process, or how to explain to others what death is, what life is, and how to make the process easier. We are scared to talk about death, and we don’t want to talk about grief. Death is something we are all going to face, and so is grief. We have to make decisions and come to an agreement of how to depict this, how to talk to people, and how to thoroughly explore death and what it means to grieve. Otherwise, we are left with an incredibly false hope that we will achieve acceptance and move on with our lives and come across no more depression, no more anger, and no more questions. We must find a better way to grieve, and we must find a better way to depict that grief.

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