Death has been on my mind a lot lately. My grandpa just died this week of COVID-19, and the whole pandemic situation is a daily meditation on death. Last month marked six years since my mom died unexpectedly.
My views on death are complex, like they are for most people who think about it, I’d guess. I think it’s natural and normal and also fearful and sad. I think it can be a relief, a comfort in certain circumstances. And although I don’t personally have a lot of hard-and-fast religious beliefs about how the afterlife goes, I do find myself drawn to the various depictions of death and transition to new life from religions from across the world.
Spiritfarer is an independently published video game that takes an interesting twist on one of those depictions: You play as Stella, a woman who has died and found herself tapped to replace the Greek god Charon, who ferries spirits across the River Styx to the Underworld. Charon is, for lack of a better term, retiring from the job, and he gives Stella (and her cat Daffodil, who either died at the same time, or perhaps died earlier and was waiting for Stella? I haven’t found out how that transpired) the power of the Everlight, a glowing orb that is the spiritfarer’s main tool in the hereafter. Why does a spiritfarer need tools, you might ask? Well, they have to build and maintain a ship to carry spirits to their final resting place, and along the way find the materials to make the ship as comfortable and seaworthy as possible.
I’ve seen reviews of this game online that compare it to Animal Crossing (another of my favorite games) and I think there’s something to that. You can’t “die” in this game, there are no “enemies” to fight and kill, no danger to overcome. Your whole purpose is service: To meet spirits, learn what they need to find peace, and help them. In the game, the first several spirits you meet are friends and relatives of yours in your last life. They ask favors of you, they request specific kinds of food (who knew spirits could be so ravenously hungry?), they teach you to make wooden planks from logs or thread from flax fibers. And they share their stories and memories with you. And for some reason, they all take the form of anthropomorphic animals.
You sail around on your ship, discovering new islands in the giant sea/river between worlds, finding new spirits to ferry. You fish, you build, you swim and cave dive, you mine rocks for precious ores. There are platforming sections of the game where you and your cat (who can be controlled by a second player in a co-operative way) jump around collecting “glims” (the game’s currency) or catching lightning bolts in bottles. And to keep your spirits happy and content, sometimes you just have to give them a hug.
This game is gorgeous. It’s touching. It’s comforting. It’s calming. And when my friend showed me the gameplay trailer from a recent Nintendo “Nindies” Direct, I grabbed my Switch and purchased it immediately from the eShop. It resonated that strongly with what I like in games and what I was needing at that moment.
It’s available now for all computing platforms (including Mac and Linux), Switch, PS4, and Xbox One.