The COVID-19 Pandemic has given all of us cause to mourn something; whether it be the loss of a friend or family member, a job, the freedom to socialize with others, or even a sense of safety and normalcy. Children have been hit especially hard by these losses, often having to juggle these emotions while still adapting to online schooling, limited experiences for socializing, and fear of becoming ill themselves. As more and more people are becoming vaccinated and there appears to be a light at the end of this tunnel, it is important to address the grief our children are feeling in new and flexible ways.
The use of technology as a grief-management tool is not novel to the past year; memorial pages on Facebook have been a popular way for people to remember loved ones or celebrities who have passed away. And according to an article on the video game website Polygon, funerals held in the game World of Warcraft pre-date COVID as well. Due to our heightened sense of isolation and the increased sense of loss, technology has once again stepped in as a way to mitigate our grief. Here are four games and one app that can help your child address their feelings of grief and loss during the pandemic.
The overwhelming popularity of the new Animal Crossing release on Nintendo Switch was due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic coinciding closely with the game’s release date. Gamers and non-gamers alike clamored to get their hands on a copy of the game and Nintendo Switch units flew off the shelves. The game gave us a way to connect with one another at a time where socializing was at a premium. But others have used the game as a way to process the losses they have experienced as a result of COVID-19. Several players of the game have built memorials to lost family members, complete with candles, grave markers, flowers, and mementos. The game’s customization tools even allow for uploading pictures of loved ones, making it possible to hold a digital memorial service for someone who has passed away. And while Animal Crossing was used to celebrate everything from birthdays to weddings to graduations during the pandemic, it is important to acknowledge that it can also be used to process less joyful events at a time when our ability to communally grieve has been altered significantly.
Some people might furrow their brow at the concept of gamifying grief, but the developers of the game Apart of Me have done so for the benefit of the player. The game places the user in an unfamiliar world inhabited by half human, half animal creatures. Everyone on the island is dealing with the loss of a loved one, and your job is to go through and help each character understand their feelings and deal with your own in the process. During the game, you receive journals from actual people who were interviewed for the game. Each journal tells the story of someone who passed away, what they meant to the person being interviewed, and what memories they have of the person. The game also features breathing techniques and resources for people who want to talk to someone professionally outside of the game. While this game is much more targeted and specific to those who have lost a loved one, it can still be a cathartic play-through for those who are grieving other aspects of their life that have been compromised or lost due to COVID-19.
Sometimes putting our grief into words seems impossible. For users who just want a game that allows you to feel your way through the grieving process, GRIS is a beautiful and gentle way to do just that. The game’s protagonist is a young girl who experiences an unknown tragic event that removes all of the color from her world and leaves her alone. You start by walking through a landscape of black and white, slowly adding color back into the landscape. The dress the girl wears has certain powers to help you navigate through the world; these powers increase with each level you complete. There are no words in the game, just the visuals and a beautiful and haunting music score, allowing the player to create their own narrative about what happened to the girl and how she is feeling as she moves through the landscape and begins to bring color back into her life.
Sometimes helping those who are grieving can be a way to process our own feelings of loss. This is the plot of the game Spiritfarer. You play as the character Stella; after waking up with her pet Daffodil, Stella encounters Charon, the Spiritfarer. Charon is about to leave this world and tasks Stella with becoming the new Spiritfarer, the entity responsible for guiding lost and lingering souls to the closure of the afterlife. As you play the game, Stella builds, fishes, and creates memories with the spirits who come to stay on their boat. Eventually, each spirit must go, causing the player to experience the acceptance stage of grief as each character says their goodbyes to Stella and moves on into another world.
While playing games can help young children think about their grief, journaling about one’s actual experiences is a way to channel feelings and make meaning of one’s actions and experiences. Keeping a physical journal is a good idea, but there are also many different journaling apps available if the user would rather have the ability to write down their thoughts anywhere they are. The app focuses on journaling as a form of mindfulness, asking the user how they feel each day and then prompting for specific reasons for these feelings. It allows the user to answer questions and provides a prompt for writing through their experiences, rather than a blank page that can put a lot of pressure on someone, especially if they are not comfortable with writing. The app also features breathing exercises, mindfulness activities, and other ways to process grief or feelings of loss in a healthy way.
Do you have any games that you think can help process grief? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.