by Andy Robertson, @GeekDadGamer
Video games are supposed to entertain us. During the last year we’ve also learnt to find comfort, distraction and even connection via the screens of our consoles and smartphones. It has come as a surprise to some players to discover that one innocent looking game packs an unexpected emotional punch.
Bird Alone offers the promise of friendship with a virtual parrot. Unlike a tamagotchi though, this electronic companion invites us to share personal anecdotes, draw pictures and even collaborate on poetry. It’s a beautiful looking game that creates a surprisingly deep sense of connection.
However, the game is design for more than distraction. In fact, it’s an invitation to experience loss as well as friendship. You see, after a month the parrot companion passes away and you are left on your own.
As Molly Backes https://twitter.com/mollybackes/status/1372012359179456513 uncovers in her thread on twitter, is the unexpected heartbreak, anger, disappointment and traum that players are sharing in their reviews of the game:
“He seemed to grow sorrowful as the days grew on,” one player wrote. “Now I’m crying over a virtual bird that made me happy and now he’ll never come back,” wrote another.
“It’s impressive how much we all fall in love with this lonely bird while spending only a couple minutes with him a couple times a day, but that made it so much more tragic to endure his death.”
The confusion and outcry from a game that dares to do something like this offers insight to how we see video game media. Or, in fact, it underlines that we still see them as entertainment rather than media in their own right. The developer signposts that the game is “A journey of growth and loss with a best friend” but quite how this loss might manifest is still not on our radar. Perhaps because of this, he also includes a content warning: “Bird Alone contains themes and discussion of death. User discretion is advised for those sensitive to this topic.”
Beyond the shock and surprise, Bird Alone is one of a number of games helping us recalibrate of what we expect from the games we play. Far from being a lone example of a game straying into ill advised territory, Bird Alone is one amongst a flock of fascinating games pushing the boundaries.
On the database of games I run, I’ve collected some similar examples together in a list of games that create space to understand loneliness or to process grief. These are experiences that offer a unique and unusual way to see difficult topics.
Other interesting examples include The Longing, a game about patience and waiting that takes 400 days of real time to play. A Mortician's Tale, a game that puts us into contact with dead bodies. Or less shocking, games like Abzu that take us underwater to consider identity and Florence, a tale about falling in and out of love.
Here's my video introducing a blogpost on games exploring loneliness:
For up to date news on gaming for families - see Andy's awesome database here