Grief isn’t static. It’s an ever-changing beast that transforms without notice. One moment, you’re certain you’ve finally learned to accept and live with a loss. Then next, you’re back in a spiral after the tiniest detail dredges those complicated feelings back up. An object that’s been sitting in your house collecting dust for years suddenly becomes a powder keg loaded with painful memories. The places that once felt comforting distort into something hostile.
Hindsight, a new narrative indie game published by Annapurna Interactive, captures that experience through a simple, but effective interactive experience. It’s the latest in a line of video game personal essays (think A Memoir Blue or Before Your Eyes) that dare to deliver emotional truth over pure fun. Hindsight is a quick game that can be completed in one sitting, but I already know its difficult musings on grief are going to stick with me longer than most 40-hour games I’ve played this year.
Hindsight tells a focused story about a woman returning home to clean out her childhood home after her mother passes away. Each object she packs away suddenly becomes a window into her past, unlocking difficult memories about her past. A metronome becomes a reminder of an overbearing mother who pushed her too hard. A mortar and pestle set connects the dots between her love of cooking with her parents to her ultimate career as a restaurant owner. Each object connects the dots of her life, piecing together how seemingly small moments from her childhood shaped her.
That’s all communicated through a simple interactive system. Players click (or tap, as I did on the Switch’s touch screen) on highlighted objects to travel into them. At one point, I tap on a tire swing on the front porch and peer through it like a window to see a memory. When I find a kitchen knife, it transports me to a memory in which I was holding it. All of this plays out in a fluid, tear-jerking two-hour story that unfolds throughout the house.
Hindsight’s main focus is on (ironically) unpacking all the baggage that comes with grief. In talking about loss, I appreciate that it doesn’t sugarcoat some of the complicated feelings that can arise during the grieving process. The main character reflects on some uglier parts of her childhood, engaging with her parent’s flaws and her own unflattering behaviors. It’s a human approach to the topic that understands that you can still love someone and acknowledge their imperfections.
In one scene that resonated with me, she travels back to the period after her father’s death. She reflects on a moment when she resents her mother for not seeming sad enough. It’s a seemingly irrational reaction, but a real one. A good friend of mine was recently killed in an accident and the months after his death were filled with moments like that. I’d see pictures of people getting married or going to the beach and feel anger. “How dare people move on when he can’t,” I thought. I knew I was being unfair, but it was hard to shake regardless. Hindsight reminds me that I’m not the only person experiencing those thorny reactions; it’s all part of the process.
Hindsight can feel a little melodramatic at times, which might be off-putting for some players. It’s soundtracked by weepy strings and a sizable chunk of its dialogue has its main character waxing poetic on sweeping philosophical questions. But it’s the more subtle moments that stand out, offering an intimate portrait of grief that’s easy to find some comforting nuggets of truth in. I may have spent two hours learning about a fictional character’s grief, but I walked away with a better understanding of my own feelings of loss and a better sense of the long road I’ve yet to travel. I’ll carry my grief with me forever, but Hindsight gave me tips on how to pack it up neatly.
Hindsight launches on August 4 for PC, Nintendo Switch, and iOS.
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