I write a lot about how video games are a great source of comfort to me. In spring of 2021, I learned that my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s in remission now, but then, hearing that my mom was sick while I was on the other side of the planet was like a punch in the gut. I was already going through a rough time; I was in an unhealthy living environment, had just lost a long term relationship, and I felt like I was losing touch with my sense of self. I almost immediately packed my bags and quit my au pair job to move home to be closer to my family, figuring that if my grades suffered it would be worth it.
While I was home, I played a lot of emotional video games to cope with the pressure of caring for my mother, my family’s home and multitude of chickens and ducks, dealing with my breakup, and staying on top of my schoolwork in a different time zone. (I wrote an article about the games that helped me the most during this time, which you can check out here). During this tumultuous period in my life, I included Spiritfarer in several articles here because I played it almost any time I had a few moments to myself. It was truly my most important crutch for coping with her illness.
I often played Spiritfarer in bed, not wanting to be simply stewing in my feelings, but also not having the energy to get out of bed to do something productive. I have endless praise for Spiritfarer because in a time where I could have easily been paralyzed by my own feelings, it reminded me to be empathetic to those around me and that other people’s suffering feels just as terrible to them as mine does to me.
Spiritfarer is a game about death and helping various characters find peace as they pass on. You ferry around lost spirits that you meet on your journey, helping them find closure and move on to the next life. Stepping into the role of Stella, the Spiritfarer, made me feel calm when we weren’t certain whether or not my mom would recover. Even though the overarching story is about loved ones passing on, the gameplay itself didn’t focus on death; it’s actually very positive and whimsical. The encouragement that each spirit gave me made me cry (in a good way), and I looked forward to completing quests and giving them food every day just because I loved their support.
Sometimes the gameplay felt grim or scary, but it always stayed beautiful and atmospheric no matter how much tension there was. There is a minigame where you have to complete a parkour route within a time limit in order to cleanse darkness from a dragon. One of the spirits, Elena, gives you this quest. Elena is a teacher, but not the fun kind — she’s the kind of teacher that inspires kids to whisper cruel things about her at recess but be silent and afraid during class. In spite of her unpleasable personality, Elena still allows you an extra minute in her challege if you want it — a small mercy if you keep failing and just need a little grace. It felt so tender and sweet; The extended time limit was a small act of compassion and love from perhaps the coldest character in the game.
Elena reminded me of my mom for many reasons. Part of me wanted to reject that my mother needed any help. She was always so strong, and confronts every hardship head-on. It was hard to accept that I really needed to help her. She was powering through chemo and nursing school at the same time, and it was hard to remember that she was feeling sick and tired the whole time. Spiritfarer reminded me that everyone is human and helped me feel deep compassion for my mother when it was hard to see her as anything but the deeply resilient, independent and determined woman who raised me.
While my mom was going through chemo, I felt the need to emotionally check out, but I also didn’t want to just be going through the motions; I wanted to be present for my family even though I was emotionally overwhelmed. Spiritfarer was a game that let me process my feelings through its gameplay and in-depth story. It made me feel seen and it was a reprieve from the usual “kill-collect-repeat” loop of games that I was used to playing. Rather than mindlessly playing TFT or even one of my comfort games like Skyrim, I learned more about myself, my feelings, and how I process grief by stepping into Stella’s shoes.
Spiritfarer is available on Steam, XBox, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. I’d recommend playing it with a cup of hot chocolate and some tissues 🙂
Are there any games you play to cope with your big emotions? Let me know about them in the comments! I’m always looking for new games.