Of the many broken lives and abandoned rooms in What Remains of Edith Finch, the loss that haunted me the most was Lewis Finch.

The Finch family believed it was cursed. It wasn’t an entirely irrational belief. From the moment the Finch family crashed against America’s shores, Finches died young. Babies drowned in tubs. Children went missing. Parents were pushed from cliffs. Child stars were murdered as teenagers. Death was around every corner of the towering and haphazard Finch home and the island where the Finches lived.

What Remains of Edith Finch leans heavily into magical realism, and whether or not the Finch family curse is real is secondary to the fact that so many of the Finches died and so many of the Finches were deeply unhappy before death claimed them. The word depression is never used in What Remains of Edith Finch, but it’s suffocating cloud hangs over much of the subtext of the game’s characters. A father who seems to actively seek death and pushes its omnipresence onto his children. A child that kills himself with a swing and you can’t be sure if it was on purpose or not. Mothers who have to outlive nearly all of their children (and a great-grandmother who outlives all of her children and all but one of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren). An uncle that is so shaken by his brother’s suicide that he lives in a bunker underneath his own home for decades just to try and escape whatever is tearing his family apart. A woman who embraces faith and education and it does nothing to stave off her family’s impending doom.

We all attempt to latch onto something to try and deal with the dysfunction and trauma of our familial history. The surviving matriarch (for a while anyways) of the Finch family, Edie, embraces stories and tall tales. If her family is cursed, she’s intent on owning that curse. She’ll acknowledge it and fight it until she’s too old to keep going. She makes it into her 90s. No other Finch lasts as long. Edie’s granddaughter, Dawn, loses her father in a freak hunting accident. She refuses to believe the family is cursed. She finds God. She finds meaning through her work and her marriage and her children. She flees the family home and moves to India and teaches and creates a new life. Then the everyday tragedies of that life force her back home, and suddenly that atmosphere of death and memory that won’t let go has her in its grasp again. Edie’s son, Milton, finds meaning in art. He works through the loss and confusion and the cycle of death through his drawings. Then, one day, he’s gone and he’s never found or heard from again.

Lewis Finch is born into this world of constant death. His father died when he was very young. His brother goes missing. His family are legendary recluses on a cursed island. How do you navigate the world when you are given every reason to believe that you will be taken and destroyed by the unknown? Lewis’s solution is drugs.

It’s rare for videogames to have honest conversations about drug use. Drug use is either mined for stoner humor (the Saints Row franchise i.e.) or drug use is portrayed as villainous or weak behavior for criminals and antagonists. You kill drug dealers in games. You rarely get to see the world through the eyes of a drug addict or a recreational drug user who isn’t some Cheech & Chong hippie caricature.

Lewis Finch loses so much and can only expect that he will lose more. Lewis’s response is to embrace the oblivion of his life and devote much of his free time to getting high. It’s a coping mechanism that I am more than familiar with.

We used to have a lot of conversations about Saas luck when I was younger. My family didn’t think it was cursed in the same way that the Finches did. We’re weren’t marred by the omnipresent specter of death. However, there was a deep-rooted conviction among many of us that Saases had bad luck. If my father and I lost money at the poker table because some drunk hit runner-runner to river us on a big hand, that was Saas luck. If plans that were set in stone for a long time had to be canceled at the last minute because of weather or some unforeseen catastrophe, that was Saas luck. If some personal relationship or career opportunity fell apart, that was Saas luck. Any time anything bad happened in our lives and we had a way to declaim personal responsibility for that occurrence, that was Saas luck.

None of us believe in Saas luck anymore. My dad — who introduced me to the concept — was the first of us to give it up. He decided that Saas luck couldn’t be a thing because he had my sister and I. He couldn’t be anything but blessed if that was the case. That’s only a slightly less unhealthy way of dealing with the things that make you unhappy in life, but it is a step in the right direction. My sister and I — who were the two other biggest proclaimers of the Saas jinx — dealt with it by realizing we were depressed and that we had severe anxiety and that those struggles with mental illness were clouding every aspect of our lives. We couldn’t beat Saas luck until we realized how Saas trauma had shaped who we’d become.

However, before I could accept that I was struggling with mental illness, I convinced myself that drugs could help me shake off the things written into my family DNA that were destroying me. Like Lewis Finch, it was one of a number of fantasies that I had to escape into because dealing with the life that I actually had wasn’t an option.

In What Remains of Edith Finch, Lewis eventually sobers up before his own tragic death. Lewis’s mother convinces him to see a therapist. That therapist helps him give up drugs. When Lewis gives up the drugs, Lewis starts a job at a local cannery. He has to put some sort of routine into his life. Otherwise, it would be far too easy for him to relapse into his addiction.

Lewis’s job is to place fish underneath what is essentially a guillotine to dispose of their heads and then place their bodies on an assembly line so they can be turned into food. The job is as rote as it sounds. Lewis does the same thing on end every day. There is no variation. There is no challenge. There is no meaning beyond getting to the end of one shift to another. To fill that time and to keep his mind from wandering back to the drugs that he will always want, Lewis concocts a world to live in while he works.

Capitalism alienates workers from their labor. Very few of us get to do a job because we believe in what we’re doing. We do a job because we need the paycheck. We don’t take pleasure in the labor of the job. Most blue-collar jobs are physically strenuous or emotionally strenuous or both, and we put up with them because the alternative is homelessness and starvation. We create fictions for ourselves in our workplaces that allow us to survive the psychological stress of that sort of alienation, isolation, and exploitation. Lewis takes that fiction to an extreme.

What Remains of Edith Finch‘s titular protagonist finds a letter written by Lewis’s psychiatrist after Lewis’s suicide. The psychiatrist details the intricate world Lewis began to craft so that he could escape from the mundanity of his day job and the crushing anxiety that chased him in his everyday life. Although the psychiatrist encouraged this worldbuilding that Lewis was engaging in at first, she quickly realized that it was spiraling out of control and that it was beginning to take over all of Lewis’s life. He couldn’t find pleasure in anything real. He only wanted to be inside the fantasy that existed only in his head. And when he realized that he could never have that total escape, he killed himself because he thought that was the only option he had to get away once and for all.

When I had to sober up — because if I didn’t, I was going to kill myself because I couldn’t function in the world around me anymore — I had to start an entry level customer service/tech job. It was a highly bureaucratized position that involved internalizing a large number of regulations and then being able to enact them without bending when faced with the opposing needs of customers. For at least the first three and half months of the job, I left work every day wanting to end my own life. Sobering up didn’t make the suicidal ideation go away. Sobering up and starting that new job made it worse than it had ever been.

Like Lewis Finch, I escaped into fantasies. I spent my breaks at work, jotting down notes for stories that I wasn’t well enough to actually write. I filled up an entire notebook with scribblings about fictional worlds I wanted to bring to life. I created characters and places. I felt like I knew them. That was where my mind was during our initial training classes at the job. It’s where my mind wanted to be when I was working, and it’s where it would escape more often than not even if I had other things I had to do. I had to be anywhere other than inside of my own actual head, experiencing the world as it actually existed around me.

There’s a part of me that knows that the only reason I’m still around right now — and that I didn’t end it all when my depression was at its worst around September and October — was that I felt a responsibility to speak to these feelings in other people. I can write, and a big part of my worldview is built around the obligation of praxis. If I could make myself keep going, I had to and I had to do something to help myself and others who had to fight against the struggles of addiction and depression and anxiety and dysphoria and the trauma of sexual assault. My friends and family members like my mother and my sister and my father made it so that I could keep going.

I also know there’s a world where I wind up like Lewis Finch. It’s a world where I don’t have a vocabulary for my battles against mental illness. It’s a world where I’m stuck in the total rural isolation that defined my childhood. It’s a world where I never found the social network that helped me accept I was trans.

Too many folks have to live in that world right now, and it’s killing them every day.

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