The only lesson I have left is to show you what we're made of. Of ephemeral starlight. We're but a few particles of thought on the vast stream of consciousness. This is the last thing I can teach you, Stella. That all things change, that all things end. - Summer, Spiritfarer
(This article contains spoilers.)
I love a good simulation game. Farming, crafting, foraging…I can spend hours on these simple activities. Games like Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon are great for relaxing and unwinding. One game in particular, however, has deviated from the formulaic farming simulator game story slightly: Spiritfarer. (This game is available on Steam, Xbox, PS, and Nintendo Switch) You still get to forage and craft, fish and grow, but this game delves deeper into what it means to be alive and how people approach their end. The characters, landscape, and mini games in Spiritfarer are metaphorical representations of different approaches to life and to death.
Spiritfarer starts with a journey on water - long a metaphor for getting to the afterlife (think the river Styx). In the game you meet with Charon right at the beginning, so maybe it isn’t that subtle of a metaphor. You spend the majority of the game on a boat going from island to island. You, Stella, pick up spirits and you help them fulfill their final wishes or realize that there are some things they can’t accomplish. Since each person has their own experience with death, they will resonate with the characters in different ways. Some of the deaths in the game were more emotional for me because of this.
Each passenger represents something different. With Gwen we get abandonment, self-harm, and resentment, both of herself and the person who abandoned her. Alice represents that you aren’t too old for adventure - and she also shows the pain of losing your memories or struggling with dementia. Gustav represents what it is like to be perceived as weak or less because he has a physical disability. And then there is Summer.
Summer has to deal with “the dragon” which shows up as a literal dragon in the game, but it can be representative of illness - either physical or mental - or perhaps addiction. Summer says her father fought his dragon and lost to it whereas she tried to love it, but she couldn’t. And, really, that could be almost any struggle. The job of the Spiritfarer is to help and to tend, though, so you help Summer by trying to get rid of the dragon’s corruption. I think that Summer hopes that if you help the dragon it will help her. But, no matter how many dragons you “cure” on her behalf, you still ferry Summer to the Everdoor once she accepts her fate.
I felt her loss in the game more than the others because, like the Spiritfarer, I am helping my oldest dog as he makes his final journey; his dragon is cancer. I am sure that every person who plays this game will resonate with one of the NPCs that you ferry on their final journey because each person has dealt with or is dealing with loss and grief and in their own ways. But, as Giovanni tells you when you ferry him to the Everdoor, “The ones who really love you never really leave you, you know?”
Another particularly memorable character is Stanley. He is the spirit of a little boy who misses his mom and is scared of death. But, he finds comfort in knowing you are with him. It’s hard, especially now that I have a child, to take a kid to the Everdoor. But, I know that people die at all ages.
This game has opened up different conversations with my four year old about death. He has cried along with me as I took characters, especially Stanley, to the Everdoor, and we said our goodbyes to them. I think it has helped him process his grief in regards to our dog’s illness. The characters say poignant things that I think are important for children, and adults, to hear in regards to death. That in some ways, those who have passed on are still with us. We carry their stories in us. We can keep them alive, just for a bit, by telling those stories, sharing them with others.