Article

How Rime Taught Me About Grief

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This is a deeply personal story about my time with Rime, and it will spoil the entire game. In addition to spoilers it will be interspersed with deeply sorrowful accounts of the death of my father. I tell you this both to inform you of the layout of this article, and to give you a chance to avoid feelings you may not be ready to face if you too are grieving a loss.

I first saw Rime during its announcement trailer back in 2013, and I was instantly attracted to it. The art style was beautiful, and it appeared to be a Zelda-ish adventure game the likes of which I am well-known to love. The next 4 years would be awash with development difficulties for Tequila Works in bringing the game to market, so much so that there were questions during its development on whether Rime would ever see the light of day. They persisted despite the hardships they faced, and in May of 2017, the game was finally released to mostly mediocre reviews.

The year of 2017 was a banner year for videogames, and I was currently up to my eyeballs in games I needed to play. Seeing the mediocre scores I didn’t look much further into the game, deciding instead to pick it up when it inevitably went on sale.

Five months later, on October 1st 2017, my father died suddenly of malpractice.

My world stopped, games lost meaning to me, and even the joy of Super Mario Odyssey released later that month could only penetrate so far into the husk that was left. To lose someone you love so much, so suddenly, is just horrible. Losing a patriarch of a family, the glue that held us all together, a man I knew against logic was impervious to death; this was borderline impossible for me.

Regardless of my shattered pieces, the world kept turning. Games continued to come out, holidays passed, and time refused to slow long enough for me to gather my thoughts. As a person that suffers from anxiety, my brain wouldn’t leave his loss alone until I could figure out how to contextualize and live with it, and that was a bridge that my logic simply could not cross.

I could not accept he was gone; I refused to accept it. All I could do was cry out the injustice that it was, say that it shouldn’t of happened, and sometimes convince myself that it hadn’t happened. I would go to sleep at night and dream of him, and awake to a world he was no longer in, the reality crashing down on me like waves that threatened to drown me. This went on for the next four months, and I was lost to despair.


 

Towards the end of January PlayStation announced that their free games for the month of February would include Rime. Needless to say, I was excited. I had waited for a long time to play this game, and I hadn’t read or seen anything about it other than the initial trailer. I went in completely blind, and would be shaken to the core by what I found there.

Rime starts as a story about a boy who is shipwrecked on a colorful island, that brings to mind the whimsical worlds of Ghibli. There is no dialogue, the boy will simply yell in a joyful manner to activate devices as you begin to explore the island with the boy. Your first task is to awaken some stone statues, that ultimately transform into a spirit fox, your one constant companion in this strange world. He guides you from place to place, leaping playfully over obstacles, always waiting just out of your reach.

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As you explore the island there is a man just out of reach, who fades from view as you follow him. He has the same red cloth you do, though his is long enough to serve as a cape, whilst yours is a scrap of what appears to be that same cloth. You follow him, but you can never interact or reach him. If you explore through this area you’ll find small totems, wooden animals and the such, and the game in its silence tells you nothing about them. Of course, my gaming tendencies kicked in and I sought to collect as much as I could, unsure of their nature.

In the first area there is a secret hidden area, and in this area is a gravestone. When you approach the stone and push the button that you have used to yell to activate things, instead the boy sobs. Something deep inside me tensed, sensing something of the loss of this quest. Tears unbidden leapt to my eyes as I saw my own father, just out of reach, walking ahead of me into mysteries unknown. I was home alone, a rare occasion with a wife and two children, and I turned the game off and wept.


 

As I stood in a hospital room with my two brothers over the cleaned body of my dead father, I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. I swore, multiple times, I saw the pattern on his gown rise or fall; I was sure that he still had breath in him. Reaching for the button to call the nurse, I knew it was impossible even as I grasped at the idea that he couldn’t be gone.

In the days following my father’s death a strange numbness descended upon me and my family. The entire situation was surreal, and you would have these conversations casually about something that your brain couldn’t fully comprehend. What kind of casket should we put him in? When should we hold the funeral? How does my bereavement leave work, and will I get written up for taking off?

Banal, silly details, but ones that have to be taken care of. Some of us, myself included, were broken entirely, but somehow a part of us simply refused to believe he was dead and retreated in our shock. A part of me kept going over the situation again and again, my emotions trying and failing to wrap around the sudden loss. I was plagued, or blessed depending, with dreams that my father was alive again. One of them promised it had been a massive cover up of the doctors, to keep us from realizing they had done something wrong.

I would wake up every time and he would still be gone, no matter how hard my brain wanted to deny it.


 

Days passed and I decided to continue my journey, the mystery of the island ever beckoning. I solved puzzles, and the boy moved deeper into the island. Coming to a large tower I saw the man duck inside, and I followed close behind. Passing through a portal, I was moved to a different area. As the boy emerged from the ruins he was instantly attacked by an enormous bird like creature. The only way this bird can get you is if you are out in the open, so you have to dart from cover to cover in order to avoid him. It is the first time in the game you can really be killed, and instantly puts you on edge. There are these huge windmill contraptions, and judging by pictures the boy sees on the wall they’ve dealt with this bird before using these contraptions. Going to each you move through it and open these holes in the windmills, which erupt with a blackness that forms clouds, striking the bird with lightning and forcing him away. Each time you do this the dark area grows, and it begins to fill with these ghostly figures who hover, whispering forlornly. If you approach them they flee, but they are haunting nonetheless.

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After you do this three times the bird is defeated, but in its final moments it chases you across a bridge and into a new area, where darkness reigns above all else. Here, alone in the dark, you find bits of light in the forms of balls you can carry. When you carry these balls with you then you are safe from the black figures, who seem to recall something of No Face from Spirited Away. They no longer flee from  you, but race towards you, fall on you, and suck the color from the boy until he is dead.


 

I was so angry.

A lot of the time I didn’t know at what or who, but I felt a sure white-hot rage that would build within me at certain moments. The first of these came in the hospital as they told me that my father would never recover. They had killed my father, you can read how here, but as surely as he lay there they had done it. I vaguely remember my mother signing the do not resuscitate order as they explained that even if they kept him alive he would be a vegetable the rest of his days, due to significant brain damage from lack of oxygen.

I don’t remember my brother imploring me not to strike someone, I don’t remember making my way to my car outside, I only knew a rage I’ve never known before or since. The next thing I do recall is being surrounded by broken things in my car, CDs, papers, pens, all shattered about the front seats. My throat hurt, I had screamed until my voice was raw.

In the following months I would be angry at everyone and nobody all at once. I knew my Mom had to sign the papers, but I was angry at her irrationally for a time. Then I was angry at my brothers, who didn’t seem to show emotion in the way I had, even though I knew they hurt as deep. I’d started a new job just days before the final time I would ever speak to my father, and the job was intrinsically tied with his death now, so I was furious at my work. My wife has never been an especially emotional person, and I was angry at her for not being there for me in the way I thought she should have.

I was just so angry.

 


 

Eventually you make your way into a factory of sorts, where you see a lot of fallen automatons. You don’t know what happened to these creatures, but you know that they have been discarded by time. Reconstructing the robot, the boy makes it his friend, and it moves in a comedic manner and seems inquisitive. As you continue to activate this building eventually you awaken a large number of these creatures, and they march off towards a huge tower in the center of the island. You follow as the boy, flashes of  your past and that day on the boat coming back to you, your father falling overboard, the torn cloak, the mysterious awakening. My hesitation deepened, I decided a while ago the boy was likely dead, and maybe he was making his way back to this tower to be reborn.

You follow these constructs into an area that is dark and foreboding, with huge doors that bar your way. At each door a construct sinks into it, allowing the door to open. As you get to the last door you notice the final robot is the one you originally awakened, the boy knows that by letting him go he will move through the door, but doesn’t want to lose him. The boy does everything he can to keep him from combining with the door, but it is inevitable, and so he loses his companion.

 


 

Intermingled with these feelings was a constant bargaining back and forth with myself, and with others. Guilt wracked me day and night about perceived slights, the smallest of occasions called into question. The day before he was to go in to a very standard operation, I didn’t come over because I didn’t want him to think that I thought he was going to die. The idea was preposterous after all, and we both suffered from anxiety, I thought it might make his nerves worse. I had a five-minute video call with my father alongside my kids, the last I would ever speak with him. If only I had gone to see him that last day, maybe things would be different.

The Sunday before he passed I left work on a Friday and things had been looking up. I visited my father at the hospital with my brother, and though he still had a breathing tube and was mostly out of it, he responded to us. He squeezed our hand, nodded when we asked him questions, we knew then it might be a long road but it would be ok. We asked if he wanted us to stay longer, he shook his head no, and we left. If only we had stayed a little longer, or maybe if we wouldn’t have bothered him so much, did we take too much out of him? Did we not stay long enough to see whatever small thing was happening and stop it?

I prayed to a God I didn’t believe in the day he died, begged him to save my father. If only he would do this thing, I would devote my life to this being in the sky that I didn’t believe in. Anything to save my father.

Guilt and bargaining that guilt away became a part of my everyday life.

 


 

In the next area rain cascades from the sky, and all is dismal and dark. The dark beings no longer chase you, or really react to you, you are simply one of them. The boy finds a statue, a statue he has seen throughout the game of a man on what appears to be a throne, posed in different ways. Here the rain cascades down his face that is buried in his hands, making him appear to be crying. In this area you slowly seek out statues and activate them, leading to a moment in front of a statue of the boy, similar to the fox statues at the beginning of the game. Here his fox guide dies in his arms, and the boy succumbs to grief. His color drains away and he is a shade in appearance now, similar to those other black souls. When you press the button to interact he simply sobs as he has lost everything, and sees no end in sight.

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From here you begin moving up a tower, breaking locks, seeking to finish your journey. Chains fall away as the boy uses new powers to shatter these things, and finally you find yourself in the central tower you have climbed throughout the game. Here you complete your climb and your boy is transfigured, light shines from within him. The tower now has a warm aesthetic and is inverted, the boy makes his way back down the tower and sees a new scene. Here the scene is inverted as well, unlike the rest of the game where we have seen the father fall over board, instead it is the son that plunges to his death.


 

I would weep when at work, often visiting a bathroom stall and crying for half an hour or better. An errant bag of stuffing at a grocery store during Thanksgiving sent me to my knees in the aisle, and I wept as strangers quickly ushered themselves elsewhere to avoid this strange sight.

Unbeknownst to my family I would cry most every drive to and from work each day, grasping at happy memories, but only realizing I would never make those with my father again. Some days I would come home and go to the bedroom, close the door, listen to sad songs, and cry for hours; unwilling to engage with the people around me.

I was utterly broken, lost in the depths of depression. Nothing helped, even when I faked a smile it was just a charade, a thin veneer to cover up the devastation inside. Holidays especially were impossible, Thanksgiving and Christmas were sheer torture.

 


 

You’ll find yourself in small home, your father is a statue within. Suddenly I understood everything, I continued even as my heart began to ache with that understanding.

The scene changes again and the boy finds himself standing on the precipice of a large hole filled with light, the dark beings plunging into it. You plunge into it as well, airy music is playing and it sounds like hope, though how can that be with the revelation we have found?

You are now the father, and you make your way through your simple home to a small door locked at the end of the hall. Unlocking it, you make your way inside, to your son’s room. His stuffed fox toy is laying on the bed discarded, and those collectibles you’ve been gathering throughout the game are the child’s toys. You can pick each of them up, turn them over, and spend as much time here as you want. The child’s spirit appears, or seems to next to the man crying on the bed, and then he fades. The red patch of cape is left in the hands of the father, he walks to the window and stands there holding it tightly.

You have to move the controller to let it go, otherwise he will stand there motionless. The cloth flies from his grasp carried by the wind, and the credits play as beautiful music that is joyful and sorrowful at the same time fills the air.


 

I sit on my couch, a PlayStation controller in my lap, and stare at the screen in front of me as the credits roll on Rime. Sunbeams fall on the carpet in front of me, dust motes dancing within them, on an unseasonably sunny February day. My son sat next to me, exclaiming that the ending was dumb, and he would have preferred a happy ending. I hugged him, because I knew he was hurting also, but inside I was contextualizing things I already had been told, though didn’t understand.

Tears welled in my eyes as I realized what everyone meant when they talked about acceptance, and came to understand the stages of grief in a way I hadn’t before. In playing an innocuous looking game, I had forced myself to confront the idea that in order to move forward, I had to accept the fact that my father was gone. To heal, I had to quit bargaining with myself and berating myself with guilt laden diatribes of what I could have, or should have done. My anger wasn’t really directed at my mother, or my brothers, myself, or anyone else aside from the incompetent medical staff.

When the menu appeared back on-screen there was a chapter select there, and each stage of the game represented a different stage of grief that most people go through during their healing. In a way that no other book or movie had done, the medium I loved most had reached out to me. Games have a power inherent in the fact that you have to control the action. You focus on the story more, the themes sink deeper, it requires your constant interaction to move forward. This back and forth between a game can create a unique bond that no other media can touch, and lets ideas sink in that might not have before.

You’ll never see me review Rime on this site, because how could I? What could I do to sit down and break down such an emotional and deep adventure, that impacted me in such a desperate time of my life?

This Sunday on the first of the month will be six months my father has been gone from this world, and I’m not all better now, because the stages of grief don’t really work like that. They aren’t a clean progression from one stage to the next. You’ll be in denial of your loss, mired in shock one moment, and the next you’ll be furious. A normal happy day will suddenly be interrupted by a Facebook memory of a moment we shared, and in those moments it might as well be the day he died all over again.

My brain, seeking to still deny the fact, will sometimes see him in people on the street. Not long after his death, and my bizarre dream, I followed an older gentleman in a grocery store down two aisles seeking to find his face, because his clothes were similar to my fathers. I’m sure he didn’t understand why when I looked at him and my eyes found his face, that they welled with tears.

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Things are better than they once were. I can occasionally see a picture of my father and smile, though memories are often still extremely painful. I don’t lay in bed ignoring my family and crying for hours anymore, I only weep occasionally when driving home, and there are times I can talk about his loss without my eyes welling.

However, as I completed that game I understood what other media had tried to tell me about acceptance.

That day I breathed in deep, I pulled the red cloak of grief that I had shrouded myself in, and I let it be taken by the wind.

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7 thoughts on “How Rime Taught Me About Grief

  1. I just played and finished RiME this weekend. It was a very special experience and such a masterpiece filled with emotion.

    I’m so sorry for your loss and I’m glad you found this game when you did. I really can’t even imagine how hard any of that was to go through… Thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

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