Today I’m stepping a bit out of my comfort zone to talk about one of my favorite forms of art. I don’t fancy myself a pro at video games the way that I feel I’m qualified to review books. (Because, I mean, how hard is it to pretend to know everything about books, right?)
But recently I played through a video game that was so beautiful, I still can’t get over how beautiful this game is. It wasn’t very long. It wasn’t difficult. But it was beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes. It opened up a well within me that I couldn’t stop for a solid minute.
Gris is an indie game developed by Spanish developer Nomada Studio. It is rife with hand-drawn art elements and beautifully mesmerizing music. Honestly, I went into the game blindly; the only information I had going in were a few thumbs-up from gamers I trust and promotional artwork. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.
What I had gotten myself into was this beautifully illustrated world with a compelling story line, despite the lack of dialogue or instruction. All I had to go off of were beautiful cinematics that told a heartbreaking story.
The watercolor accents. The pen-and-ink elements. The gradients. The simple sprite design. All of these things came together to tell a truly powerful story, a story that resonated so deeply within me that it hurt in a visceral way.
I know I said earlier this week that when I’m dealing with my own depressive episodes I don’t want to read about somebody else’s. But for whatever reason this was different. Maybe I was in a clear headspace, or maybe experiencing this journey with the silent protagonist was therapeutic, but I enjoyed every moment of this game.
Gris is a giant allegory in a way that is subtle and obvious at the same time. In the opening cinematic, we watch as Gris’ world is destroyed and everything she knows literally comes crumbling down. As she falls, color begins to fade from the beautiful world about her. By the time she lands, hits rock bottom, her world is drained of all color and everything is black and white.
As Gris, the titular character, fights her way through this unknown terrain, color slowly begins to return to the world.
I refuse to tell anymore of the story, for fear of giving too much away. It’s too lovely a game to have spoiled for you.
What has intrigued me more about Gris is how this is an indication of the conversations we’re having surrounding mental illness. And how we’re slowly, but surely, destigmatizing depression. For many people, depression is as real as the tooth fairy, The Great Pumpkin, or healthy food that tastes good. For many, if it can’t be seen, then it simply doesn’t exist.
But games like Gris and Celeste are showing that those conversations are happening. And that those conversations are making a difference. And that little by little, we’re opening up people to realizing that a need is a need, regardless of its easy detection.
Of course, none of this went through my head while I played Gris. What went through my head was much more like “oh my god this game is gorgeous.” And “They really nailed what this journey is like.”
Gris contains so many universal truths that it would be hard to hate it. Don’t expect the most advanced platformer ever created. Don’t expect an RPG-quality storyline. Don’t expect something that shatters molds and changes the fabric of gaming.
But expect a story that changes you. Or at least speaks to you. Expect something amazing and beautiful for its simplicity.
6 out of 5 stars
Gris is available on Nintendo Switch, and through Steam for MacOS and Microsoft Windows.