From Grief to Grace: A non-gamer’s journey through Gris 

*This review contains spoilers* 

To preface this review, I am not a gamer. I recently acquired a Switch and this is the first game I played, at the recommendation of a friend.  

Gris is a platform adventure game about a young girl and her tumultuous and beautiful journey with grief, after the loss of her mother. This game came about when two video game developers, Roger Mendoza and Adrian Cuevas, met artist Conrad Roset at a party. Roset shared his idea for a game with the duo, and together they formed Nomada Studios. This is the team’s first game. Gris – which is the name of the game’s protagonist and also the Spanish word for ‘grey’ – has a roughly three hour play time and has the unique feature of having no fail states, game overs or the ability to die.  

The water colour art style, which is distinctive of Roset’s work, is whimsical and enchanting,which makes for a calming experience for the player. Paired with the ethereal music, done by Barcelona composer Berlinist, this game often feels like a happy ASMR-inspired dream.  

The premise of Gris is that you must collect enough stars to form a constellation bridge, which will allow you to leave this world and heal from the grief and pain you have endured. You can also collect these little lights called mementos, which, if you find them all, will unlock a special cutscene from Gris’ childhood at the end of the journey. Your search for stars and mementos will lead you through five different landscapes, each one represented by a colour. These landscapes and colours depict different stages of grief, based on the Kübler-Ross model. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The entire game is essentially a massive metaphor for grief and how healing is rarely linear.  

The game begins with Gris, in a world full of colour, standing in the palm of a large, partially broken statue of her mother. Gris tries to sing, but has no voice, and the statue finally crumbles to the ground, sending her tumbling, heartbroken, to the ground.  

She lands in a barren white landscape, the only visible feature being a thinly drawn black line to show the ground she has landed on. All the colour in her vivid world has been lost. She tries to stand but falls to her knees;pressing any button other than the ‘walk’ button will cause Gris to fall over, symbolising her numbness, her pain and her inability to function after the loss of her mother. After a few moments of walking, mountains and flying birds appear in the background and Gris now has the ability to run and jump, to show that she is ready to let in a little bit of reality. As you run, the ruins of buildings and statues begin to appear, though the world remains black and white. Once you come across the ruins of the statue of your mother, you begin to cry and the next stage, Anger, is unlocked. The sky in this barren world becomes washed in red watercolour strokes.  

In the anger stage of the game, you must traverse the desert wasteland through the ruins of your world, and take cover from strong gusts of wind which periodically blow through the landscape to knock you over. These winds, which make the entire screen red, are symbolic of the blinding rage of grief. You will eventually unlock skills which will prevent the winds from knocking you over, but first you must learn to embrace the anger in your life. These same skills will help you solve other puzzles, essentially teaching Gris how to let her anger out in a healthy way and to use it to her advantage.  

After the harshness of the red desert, you fall down into a lush green forest: this is Bargaining. Here you learn how to befriend the creatures of the forest, which is essential to moving forward in the game, and symbolic of the connections you need to nurture after pushing everyone away during your anger stage. The colour red will also appear haphazardly throughout this world, often in the trunks of trees and flowers, though occasionally red will once again become the dominant colour of the landscape around you. This symbolises the back-and-forth nature of grief, and how it is normal, and even healthy, to revisit earlier stages in your healing process.

On this level, Gris meets a manifestation of her dark side and of her grief, which presents itself in the form of a giant bird made up of swirling black matter. The bargaining has not worked and her grief has caught up with her again, and the only way she can escape it is by employing the skills she has gained in this level. The screen once again becomes red as Gris attempts to escape the bird, which she does by ringing a giant bell, showing how helpful music can be in dispelling grief. Once again, she finds the statue of her mother, partially restored but still broken, and breaks down crying.  

This is the Depression stage, and to progress you must head into an underwater cavern. Everything around you is blue, with no other colours visible, to show the all-encompassing nature of depression. You have unlocked the ability to swim and are now free to explore the deep chasms of this water world, symbolic of the vast and overwhelming sadness of grief. After swimming through these chasms for a long time, Gris finds herself right back where she started, at the statue of her mother, where she unlocks the colour yellow, symbolising Acceptance.  

Gris once again regresses when her dark manifestation of grief appears in the form of a giant eel, and chases her back through the chasms of depression she has been exploring.  Just when the eel is about to devour her, the red turtle arrives to help, and brings her back above water, and out of her depression. This phase of the game is showing the player that acceptance is not an overnight solution to grief, and that it isa long and deliberate journey that will require you to navigate all of your emotions.  

In the last phase of the game, all the colours are once again visible and Gris has regained her ability to sing. But to truly move on, she must finally face her grief head on. The dark mass that has been chasing her now takes the form of Gris’ own face, which steals all the colour that she has earned and swallows her whole, pulling her down into an inky black sea. The screen turns black (the culmination of all colours) and the sky is white light (the culmination of all colours in the light spectrum), so all the colours are present but not visible.

Gris, as her name states, is the mix of both black and white. She is the balance between good and bad, light and dark, the calm and the storm. Before the dark creature completely engulfs Gris, she decides to sing in spite of it, and it is this action that destroys the darkness once and for all, and the colours return again. Now all the ruins of Gris’ world have reconstructed themselves, even the statue of her mother. She has successfully rebuilt her life and makes the home run across the constellation bridge she has spent the whole game making. She disappears slowly into the clouds as she runs, and she re-enters the real world once again, maybe not fully recovered from the loss, but instead equipped with an intimate knowledge of her own mind and the skills to bring herself back from any hardship. 

Nomada Studios employed the help of psychologists familiar with grief, and used their expertise to create a game that both accurately portrayed the grieving process and to comfort those who are grieving. This game feels more like some sort of spiritual journey or an interactive story rather than just a video game. I came away from Gris feeling like I had witnessed something extremely important, something so shamelessly earnest that I found myself jumping back to the parts of the game that I wanted to explore again, just to keep the experience from ending. You don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy Gris, you just need to be curious about the human psyche and have a love of soft pastels and elegant music.  

Jacinta Rossetto
Jacinta Rossetto

Jacinta Rossetto is a writer, artist and editor studying Creative Writing at QUT. Her passion project is a little something called Dawn Street Zine, a zine that she writes, designs, produces and scouts content for. Her favourite genres to write in are gothic and literary fiction.

Articles: 24

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