Is the story important in What Remains of Edith Finch?

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What Remains of Edith Finch is one of those quiet games like Gone Home or Firewatch that spur conversations about narrative, art, and even gaming itself. While detractors are quick to toss it into the “walking simulator” pile, supporters say the key to enjoying it is letting the story of the Edith and the Finch family unfold naturally through the environments and the puzzles. They point to the Finch house and draw the stories of the Finches out of character vignettes nestled in the objects. Here, a tale of great-grandmother Edie. There, a yarn from uncle Gregory.

Ian Bogost, video game philosopher and creator of Cow Clicker, posits that story shouldn’t matter. In his essay in The Atlantic, Bogost argues that the industry obsession with being a narrative medium is in opposition to video gaming’s strength. Games are at their best when they present a new way of contextualizing the world.

At stake is not whether a game can tell a good story or even a better story than books or films or television. Rather, what it looks like when a game uses the materials of games to make those materials visible, operable, and beautiful.

Anyone who played Cow Clicker can tell you story is paramount. Cow Clicker wasn’t just an aimless trifle in which players clicked an image of a cow to watch numbers get bigger. It was about gamers defying logic and even Ian Bogost’s own expectations. It was about people clicking on enough cows that it went beyond a sick joke and became a phenomenon that had to be artificially stopped by the creator. It’s about gamers “beating” the game. Woo! We won!