A Fact of Life
Death is often a hard topic to discuss. It is the ultimate form of loss and yet the one binding inevitability for all of us. It’s a concept that is as terrifying as it is accepted. And maybe, it is the very thing that makes the whole experience of life worth it. Spiritfarer, a game by Thunder Lotus Games, is a story about dying. It manages to capture the concept of death and work it into a cozy setting that addresses hard topics with grace.
Yet importantly, by nature of the world the game puts together, Spiritfarer is able to convey some deep lessons to the player. The narrative builds upon the interpersonal relationships between the player and the game’s characters. As such, the game begins to dive into deeper themes about life, specifically the concepts of taking one’s time, caring for others, and in turn, letting others care for you. Additionally, the game deals with loss in an artistic way. The simplicity of the game allows the exposition and characters to carry the themes. Of course, it is both within these moments of exposition and during just regular gameplay that Spiritfarer shines.
Taking Care and Taking Time: Becoming the Spiritfarer
Spiritfarer gives players the titular profession. Your goal is to guide those who have died to a better place, helping them move on. Of course, this means the game places players in the position of a caretaker of sorts. As you sail about the fantasy world of the game you will pick up new spirits in need who quickly become more than just new people to care for. They become your friends. Spiritfarer insists upon developing each of these unique spirits as you help them meet their needs, take care of tasks, and eventually, help them find their peace.
This is obviously intentional. More than just adding the spirits as another aspect of the management sim style of gameplay, the spirits each come with their own unique stories. Taking care of them unveils each of their stories, building the player relationship with them. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, it teaches players a valuable lesson: taking care of someone you care about feels less like work and more rewarding.
Learning to Slow Down
Spiritfarer deliberately puts players in a position where they will grow and bond with each of the spirits they pick up. The slow pace of the game teaches players the importance of slowing down their own time. You are in no rush in the game. There is no time limit, you needn’t hurry from task to task. The spirits themselves don’t rush you, it’s emphasized that everything that needs doing can be done at the player’s own pace.
This is an important concept. Feeling like you can take your time, while still being a good friend, caretaker, or what have you, is healthy. Despite being the Spiritfarer, the game constantly asserts the idea that you should handle things at your own pace. Personally, this struck home. In an increasingly fast-paced world, not to mention full of fast-paced games, it felt strange to play such a slow game full of feeling.
There is no rushing when caring for someone. Sure there can be moments where, once you begin a task, you have to be a bit quicker. Yet Spiritfarer prioritizes the idea that caring for others can be slow. It can be peaceful, and learning to understand the people you’re looking after is just as important as the care itself. Everyone has different needs and Spiritfarer dives into these needs through the individual personalities, struggles, and revelations of characters.
Caring for The Spiritfarer
The fact that the spirits aboard your ship can do tasks in their off time is important. It’s important from a gameplay perspective as a mechanic that provides resources to the player. However, the game also takes this time to allow the characters to reaffirm the Spiritfarer. The spirits show their own form of care to the player character, giving them resources, helping around the ship, and always ready to remind the Spiritfarer how great of a job they are doing.
This sort of reminder touches on a concept that can often be overlooked. A reminder to players that they need to surround themselves with people who care. The game ensures that the care that the Spiritfarer gives is acknowledged and important to the spirits. Though this isn’t always the case in real life, it serves as reminder to appreciate yourself and to make sure you are appreciated.
The game ensures there are a lot of “check-in” moments for the player. Of course, despite dealing with it in a more cozy way, Spiritfarer is about dying. After and during every major event, every crossing over, players have the opportunity to sit with themselves for a while, reflect, and see how they are feeling. These check-ins are beautiful moments that help add to the gravity of the game, and really should be applied in everyday life. Just small reminders to check in with yourself, feel what you’re feeling and reflect. Especially when dealing with loss.
Loss and The Beauty of Letting Go
Of course, the game about dying deals with a great deal of loss. Yet, perhaps the most important lesson that Spiritfarer teaches players is how to let go of someone has meant something to them. Obviously, these characters in a video game could never amount to a real-life being. But the lesson is still there.
Spiritfarer eventually has the player take every spirit to the Ever-Door and help them cross over. This is a sombre, reflective journey that gives the player a large amount of time to think about everywhere they went with this spirit and enjoy the final journey with them. However, there is more to the journey. It’s a lesson. Players have to face the reality that nothing lasts forever, everyone eventually has to make their own trip to the Ever-Door. Yet, the important parts of the experience weren’t the beginning or the end. The beauty of the experience was everything you learned along the way. Every single adventure, every lesson, every moment, it all leads to this culmination. As you sit in the small rowboat taking one spirit or another on their final journey, it’s important to reflect on these moments.
This is the lesson that Spiritfarer tries to teach. Life is short, but it is a journey. You need to love the people who mean a lot to you, take care of them, let them take care of you back. Learn to take your time and reflect on yourself. Enjoy the things in your life that mean something to you. Because at the end of the day, we all have to make the trip to the Ever-Door. We can’t take anything with us. Except maybe the memories we made in between.