Trauma is a very personal experience and has been portrayed in many mediums, including video games. In the games Gris and Gone Home, trauma plays a big part in their overall message. Due to the complexity of the topic, both games naturally chose to highlight certain aspects of it, while focusing less on others. The different aspects of trauma that these two games focus on and the direction it takes player is what makes both of these games impactful. Interestingly, it is the vagueness in which the games describe their traumas that makes them so effective in dealing with it. The game Gris starts with a scene in which the main character (Gris) is kneeling on the hand of a large stone sculpture of a person. She sings to the sculpture pleadingly, moving around in desperation. Suddenly, she loses her voice and falls. The hand holding her starts to crack and ultimately crumbles, causing her to plunge into a long fall. This is the only context given to the trauma she is overcoming during the game. The gamer can infer that her trauma could be a result of a broken relationship, but all the details are left out. It is the fact that these details are left out which allows the game to focus on its strength, allowing the gamer to personalize Gris’ journey through her trauma while revealing their own. If the player knew what caused Gris’s trauma, people would focus more on the event and less on her. This game wants the gamer to experience Gris’s revival without attempting to place blame on either Gris or the person who caused the problem. By putting less focus on the events of Gris’s trauma, the player of the game can personalize the game experience, and see themselves through her journey of revival. It is the idea that it is more important to rise up than focus on the past as well as the openness of the game that allows people to confide in it that allows Gris to be such an impactful game. The growth Gris experiences in the game can be progressively seen through each individual stage. The stages are framed after the 5 stages of grief, with each stage offering important insight into Gris’s development. The first stage represents denial, and is characterized by the stages lack of color, and crumbled landscape. Gris, unable to process her emotions, creates this false reality to hide in, avoiding the truth. Color is slowly filled in after each stage, representing other stages of grief, and Gris gains new abilities in accordance with the stage she is on. For example, after clearing the denial stage, the color red is gently filled in, representing anger coming into her reality and consuming her. She gains the ability to harden herself, and destroy the stone creatures around her. Strong winds fill the landscape, and the previous gentle music is interrupted with loud organ playing. As the gamer plays through this stage, they can feel her anger and frustration after her loss and personalize the experience to themselves. Each time a new color or ability is added to the game, the player feels as if they have overcome a step in their own journey through grief. By the end of the game Gris finally finds her voice and is able to move on from her Trauma. The gamer too at the end feels as if they were also able to get through theirs’. The vagueness of Gris in describing the Trauma allows for this connection. One which the player sees themselves in Gris’ struggle to rise after her fall. By witnessing this the gamer themselves open up on their own journey through grief. At the end, when Gris finally finds her voice, the player feels as if they too finally overcame their own trauma. Ultimately, Gris decides to portray trauma as a chance to grow and become stronger. It does this by putting less focus on the events of Gris’s past, and more on her path to redemption. The way in which Gris goes through her trauma allows the player to recognize their own grief, and go through the stages with her. Gone home deals with trauma in a similar way as Gris. Specifically, the lack of detail surrounding Terry’s trauma. Terry is introduced at the beginning of the game as Sam and Katie’s father. Although the main story focuses on Sam, Terry’s story is equally as important. His story is one of struggle, as a writer and as a father. He too experienced trauma at a young age. One that still impacts him as an adult. The origins of his trauma, however, is only revealed towards the end. This is what allows his story to be the most impactful. Most of his experience, in the beginning, is given as his struggles during his adult life. Through multiple transcripts, books, and letters, it is revealed that Terry is a struggling sci-fi writer. His first book did poorly, and his second one did even worse. His publisher left him, and he was forced to take a job reviewing home stereo systems for a tech magazine. His dissatisfaction with his job and his life were clearly shown in-game. Through transcripts of his reviews shown in-game, it was evident that he was losing himself, turning in stories about his childhood rather than his stereo review. He was turning into an alcoholic, and his marriage was losing its intimacy too, with it later being revealed that his wife was having an affair. Although these events are scattered throughout the game, it is evident that Terry is struggling in his life, and you dont have much of an idea as to why. All you see is a man going through a common struggle. A lack of purpose and identity. Many people are either dissatisfied with school or the job they have. It is very easy to lose yourself when you are not doing what you are meant to do. This is what the gamer can see in Terry, and it creates relatability in the character. One that makes the reveal of his trauma all the more shocking. Through the new book Terry was writing, the backstory given to his uncle Oscar whose house he inherited, and evidence in the basement of the house that Terry spent his childhood in, it was obvious that Oscar abused Terry when he was a child. Although what exactly happened is not revealed clearly, it is clear that it severely impacted Terry, and the trauma carried on to his adulthood. As the gamer learns more and more about Terry they learn of a man struggling for meaning in his life. Someone they themselves relate to. A man stuck in a job that sucks the life out of him. A man struggling to form relationships with the people he loves. Because the reveal of his trauma was so late, the player focused on his plight. This allowed them to understand the effects of trauma even before it was revealed he went through anything. This gives the gamer a clear and impactful understanding of how damaging trauma can be and allows them to look within themselves for potential causes of their own struggle. Both Gone Home and Gris are specifically vague. Although they both use this vagueness, the part of trauma they chose to highlight is different. Gris uses it to show how Gris overcame her struggles and allowed the gamer to go through a path of revival with her. Gone Home uses it to allow the gamer to focus on Terry’s struggle, and understand the damaging effects of one’s trauma far after it happened. Although what each game portrayed was different, both used vagueness to make their games more impactful.
The repetition of key symbols throughout the two games also allows these two games to be effective. In Gris, the repeating symbol is the stone statue. It is used to show Gris’s growth throughout the story. More specifically, fragments of the collapsed statue are found throughout the game. The first time this repeats is in the transition from denial to anger. Gris sees a fragment of the collapsed hand and curls up into a ball and cries. This ultimately stimulates her into a state of anger. From the anger phase to the bargaining phase, she again steps onto the hands of the statue, curls up into a ball, and cries. This also stimulates her into the next phase. The repetition of the symbol, which represents Gris’s vague but powerful trauma, reminds the player what is actually pushing the change. Gris herself is facing her trauma head-on and is slowly changing her reaction to it until she finally learns to grow from it. It is a reminder that growth is a process. The statue serves as milestones in a long path to revival. By seeing the statue so many times, the gamer never forgets where Gris came from, and how much she has changed. By seeing Gris change with every exposure to the statue, the gamer themselves can allow themselves to take on their traumas head-on. To realize that change is a slow and grueling process, but ultimately worth it in the end. The repeating symbol in Gone home is not an object, but a date. The date 1963 repeats itself multiple times in the game, and Terry seems to be obsessed with it. In his new novel, the main character has to travel back to that date to prevent a tragedy, being Kennedy’s death. The password to his safe was also 1963. Not until towards the end of the game do you realize, however, that 1963, thanksgiving, was the day Terry was abused by Oscar. In his new novel, he was actually the main character, traveling back in time to prevent his abuse. Both the repetition of the date and the way he uses it as a symbol in his novel show how heavily that date still burdens him. It never escaped him from his childhood. Upon this realization, the gamer further realizes the extent to which childhood trauma can consume your being. It makes the gamer feel for a man who still suffers the effects of his past and allows them to understand the effects of their own trauma. Hopefully going on to a path of revival. Similar to vagueness, symbols are used in both games to reassert their themes, although in different ways. In Gris, the statue is used to show Gris’s growth over time, while in Gone Home 1963 is used to show how Terry never got over his trauma, and still suffers its effects as an adult.
Gris and Gone home use similar methods, whether it is vagueness or repetition, in order to highlight their messages. It is, however, the sense of vulnerability that the use of vagueness and repetition in each game instills in the reader that makes them so effective. Vulnerability seems to have a negative connotation in society. People characterize vulnerability with weakness. They try to hide this perceived weakness from others, when in reality what they are doing is pushing people away, and not allowing themselves to connect on a deeper level with others. Both vagueness and repetition allow for this vulnerability. In Gris, the vagueness of her trauma and the repetition of her trauma allows the gamer to focus and embody her long journey of growth. This allows the player to open up themselves to their own trauma, making them vulnerable. Similarly, the vagueness and repetition of 1963 in Gone Home allow the gamer to fully realize the damaging effects of trauma if left undealt with and also allow the player to become vulnerable by relating to Terry’s struggle. The vulnerability instilled by these two games using the two methods mentioned allows the gamer to grow themselves, opening up to parts of their lives they might have not touched. Games like these can be so impactful because they can change the way you think and feel. They allow you to relate and see yourself in the characters, allowing you to change for the better.