Video games have expanded remarkably in terms of what themes and emotions they can convey. Mortality, however, has always been a trickier subject to get at. One thinks of Francois Truffaut’s oft-quoted sentiment about how it’s almost impossible to make an anti-war film because the depiction of combat on screen is almost inherently thrilling. Similarly, in a medium built with terminology like “bonus lives” and “save points,” it’s extra challenging to convey the notion that the player will lose in real life inevitably, their loved ones will be gone, and there will be no do-overs. Who’d want to play that, let alone re-play it?
Cassandra Khaw, a narrative designer of at Jumpsuit Entertainment, recently spoke with Take This about how She Remembered Caterpillars not only managed to address mortality with engaging gameplay, but also wound up appealing to younger gamers. Over the course of the interview, it becomes clear the game probably managed to strike such a delicate balance because Khaw was drawing from a deeply personal place herself. She worked on the game while grieving for her deceased father, and while the process didn’t necessarily alleviate her grief, it did help her articulate it in ways she couldn’t while talking about the loss with friends.
True to its name, She Remembered Caterpillars requires players to arrange candy-colored creepy crawlers to solver a series of puzzles. Title cards in between levels share quotes from a person dealing with grief. And with these excerpts constantly setting and re-setting the tone, players come to equate the increasing difficulty of the puzzles with the inevitability of death. One can only outwit it for so long, and the outwitting gets harder and harder to do as times goes on.
That may be a difficult conversation to have with adults, but the reception to She Remembered Caterpillars has seen parents actually using it as a conversation piece for deeper conversations with their kids once play time is over. Since Khaw herself found comfort in playing other games, the success of her work really demonstrates the reciprocal power of this artform to convey emotions and share experiences.
Have any games helped you through a tough time? Share your thoughts in the talkback.
Featured Image Credit: Jumpsuit Entertainment