After finishing up Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice recently, I got a bit of a hankering to play through some short (maybe) story games. Next up for me was Gris. I had it in my library already. In fact, I’d picked it up during the summer sale on recommendation from a friend and just hadn’t got around to it yet.

Once I did though, I couldn’t put it down. I finished it in a single sitting. Fortunately that only meant around 3 hours, but it still put me to bed on the wrong side of 2am. (Yay holidays!)

I thought next I would tackle Plague Tale: Innocence. (Incidentally, another Steam Award winner — for ‘Outstanding Story-Rich Game’.) I’ve been quite enjoying these shorter-form story games. But uh… Then right at the end of the Steam sale I also made the plunge into the PC version of Red Dead Redemption 2. That’s the farthest thing from ‘short’ story game I can probably get. But ah well. Today! Today we’re here for Gris.

Red. Anger. Following hot on the heels of the grey of denial.

But perhaps calling Gris a ‘story game’ is a bit off. There is certainly a story being told. But beyond the broad strokes, it is utterly open to interpretation.

As a spoiler warning of sorts — I do plan to talk about my interpretation of the story starting below. If you still haven’t played Gris and would like to without someone else’s impressions colouring your own — you might want to skip the rest for now.

Right.

Still here?

Good. Here goes.

The Story of Gris — As I Interpreted it

The official description of the game provides the start, and context: Gris is a hopeful young girl lost in her own world, dealing with a painful experience in her life. Her journey through sorrow is manifested in her dress, which grants new abilities to better navigate her faded reality.

In the game itself, the ‘levels’ are broken down to align to the five stages of grief (aka the Kübler-Ross model). Each unlocks additional abilities — starting with simply solidifying into a rock allowing you to stand strong against the blasting winds.

As you gain new abilities and means of dealing with your grief, colour starts returning to the world.

Jumping back though — the game opens with Gris standing on the palm of a statue of a woman. Then the statue breaks apart. Shatters. Starting Gris on her journey. The statue of this woman is a recurring icon throughout the game.

The first interpretation I came away with was that this statue represents Gris’ mother. And that her mother’s passing is the cause of this journey.

It wasn’t until much nearer the end that an alternate theory started to coalesce. As you move through the game, and colours one-by-one return to the palate… Well, let me show you.

Gris’ mother didn’t pass. You do. Well- Gris does. The Kübler-Ross model was initially designed with terminal patients in mind. Though it is broadly accepted as the stages of grief more generally now, so it could fit either narrative.

There are parts which, frustratingly, I didn’t seem to take screenshots of. The bird ‘boss’ (you never actually ‘fight’ anything, nor can you ‘die’ in a gameplay sense) for example shows the bird made of an oily-fluid substance.

At the time — before I started down the path of believing Gris was the one in the process of passing — I thought it reflected a necessary adversity. Because while it seemed to be acting against you, keeping you away from where you wanted to be — it was also undeniable that you couldn’t get where you needed to go without it.

Then came the sequence of flying up alongside it, and I wasn’t sure it was your ‘enemy’ at all.

…But it came back. Or at least the oily force behind it did. In the underwater sections (which I don’t have a single shot of!) it returns as — at first — a giant eel. It seeks to devour you and is very clearly not in any way looking out for you.

As the chase continues, you swim into narrower and narrower branching passages. The eel splits to chase. The branches becoming more analogous to arteries, possibly. Before making an apparent escape and bursting out — the eel splits into hundreds of tiny ones. They’re everywhere, completely overrunning everything.

It’s after this scene you enter the more heavenly areas of the game.

What about this, then?

Despite the subdued palate again — this comes after ascending the celestial stair.

I wonder if it might throw my interpretation to the wind, showing what I thought to be the woman in the statue at final rest.

And it might be.

What I wondered though, was whether this was a representation of Gris laying her future to rest. That the lady at rest here is her. Or what she might have been, if this sickness hadn’t taken her. This level represents acceptance.

I can’t be sure I’m right. The ‘obvious’ answer may well still be the correct one here. I find that difficult to reconcile with Gris herself making the heavenward journey — but not impossible.

It’s a game rife with metaphor after all.


Naithin

Gamer, reader, writer, husband and father of two boys. Former WoW and Gaming blogger, making a return to the fold to share my love of all things looty.

8 Comments

Asmiroth · January 9, 2020 at 6:11 am

This one is still on my wishlist. Soon!

    Naithin · January 9, 2020 at 8:48 am

    Can’t wait then, to see what impressions and interpretation you come away with. :)

Isey · January 9, 2020 at 7:39 am

Oddly, Naith – I can’t like anything on your page (the like buttons never show up) – they just say Loading…

I enjoyed reading about this game (as well) but felt the above was more important – hah!

    Naithin · January 9, 2020 at 8:45 am

    I’ve just taken another stab at fixing this — disconnected and reconnected Jetpack to wordpress.com, and disabled the site optimisation plugin I had running.

    Curious whether that makes any difference for you or not after perhaps a cache clear.

    You’re not the only one to experience this issue actually, and I’ve looked at this before. But it’s an intermittent issue and really difficult to troubleshoot on my own. I get this here myself occasionally, and other wordpress.org sites as well — GENERALLY force reloading the page (shift+refresh) fixes it no matter where I am. But I would like to get to the bottom of this once and for all if I can!

Michelle | A Geek Girl's Guide · January 9, 2020 at 5:27 pm

Interesting interpretation for Gris. I truly adore this game and can see how you reached your conclusions.

    Naithin · January 9, 2020 at 10:37 pm

    I’ve since found out that there is a semi-secret area that if found (and if you completed all the optional bits on your way through) cuts off some of the subjective interpretation and provides are more definitive answer as to what’s going on here.

    I’m of mixed feelings about the existence of this! Which is interesting, because I’m typically someone who falls very much on the side of preferring there to be a ‘correct’ answer. It need not be an obvious or easily understood one, but it should be there. e.g., the end of the movie ‘Inception’ always comes to mind to me for this.

    I just went back and read your review of Gris too (here, for anyone else coming along interested: https://ageekgirlsguide.com/2019/02/25/gris-review/) — and I love your interpretation also. I think if there was ever an example of a game (or piece of art) that shouldn’t offer any content (hidden or not) that potentially destroys otherwise valid interpretations — it should be this one!

    I haven’t viewed the secret area yet — I likely will, eventually. But still!

Deisophia · March 25, 2020 at 10:33 am

OK so i do get the cancer metaphor you established with the eel, and particularly the metastasis makes sense there. The ebb and flow of it would be the hope of going into remission then finding out it has still returned?
My initial thoughts were something similar a more internal and personal story then as I played through it made sense as the stages of grief entirely and the loss as something external to her that she was absorbing into her identity.

    Naithin · March 25, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    So I, at last, went to view the final ‘secret’ scene. I did so just on YouTube, and the comments there are pretty interesting in the range of takeaways and feelings on the mere presence of this final scene in the game. Some people were seemingly quite distraught that their own interpretation that they’d built up, sometimes with some fairly significant importance to themselves, had been ‘taken away’.

    While I’m nowhere near as attached to the possible interpretations I discussed in this post as that, I can at least empathise with that point of view as I alluded to in the comments on your post on Gris (here, for anyone else: https://virtualvisions.home.blog/2020/03/23/gris/).

    I think where I ultimately land is that I view it as the author’s prerogative to tell the story they wish to tell. Or even whether they are setting out to tell a particular, specific story or not.

    Where Gris might run into issue is that there clearly *is* an explicit, singular, ‘correct’ interpretation intended. But this fact is occluded until you’ve not only finished the game and built your own personal narrative, but beat it ‘perfectly’. (*cough* Or jumped on YouTube.)

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