Video games often get accused of desensitising players by bombarding them with a constant stream of violence and death. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that while we are indeed subjected to this, it’s unlikely to impact how you deal with these things in the real world because they are, in fact, in the real world.
When you add in the fact that characters often shrug off the death of others like it is meaningless, it’s hard to truly empathise with them. In real life, the death of a loved one is unlikely to lead to a vengeance filled rampage.
When a game makes a point of showing the player what actual grief looks like, then it’s important to highlight it. Crossing Souls is a game that is inherently about death, early on you find a device that lets you see and interact with the dead, but also draws them to you and is the macguffin that basically ignites the entire story.
Across the course of Crossing Souls story literally every single character in the group you control dies. The ending has the lone survivor crossing into the afterlife and slowly regressing until they are a teenager again to meet their friends. The deaths are handled in different ways and have different causes as well. Many of them are handled differently by the cast of characters and each successive one impacts them distinctively. When it comes down to it grief is weird for everyone and Crossing Souls does a great job of showing it.
One death in particular is shown to be the most damaging, upsetting, and the hardest to deal with. The first character you are introduced to is Chris, who is an older brother to Kevin, a mischievous little one who generally causes trouble as all little brothers do. In fact Kevin is the one who basically ignites the entire adventure and is, as such, completely integral to the game.
After a short tutorial adventure the device you have goes out of control, it drains Kevin of his life and he dies. This isn’t a bait and switch, this isn’t some kind of trick or prank, this happens and it hits the characters like a train, but none harder than Chris.
You watch a cutscene that covers the funeral of Kevin, with his parents and his brother Chris in the front row, you see what Chris sees, looking up at the person performing the service, looking at his mothers devastated face. It’s pretty rough, and it hits home, but then the game goes one further.
Coping With Loss
It shows Chris locked in his room in a few different short clips. In the first his mother tells him he has to eat something, then it changes to him sitting silently on the floor, then crying and shaking his head while staring out of the window. It is an immensely touching sequence and one that really hits at the heart of grief, one that shows just how hard it is to understand. Chris is hit hard by this for several reasons, but ultimately you can tell he blames himself, after all he is the big brother, he should have protected Kevin.
This is what grief is actually like. It isn’t some white-hot short lived thing that can be dealt with by gunning down people. It is something that consumes you, eats away at everything you are, it takes and takes from you until there is nothing left.
Naturally in Crossing Souls Chris has a chance to speak to Kevin again, the machine they have let’s them interact with the dead. Even knowing that the initial hit of emotion that is portrayed with Chris is incredibly real.
We need more games that show people that emotions are okay, that they come in many different forms. Grief is a complex one, one that affects different people in different ways. It is also one that nearly everyone will have to deal with at some point.
One of the reasons Crossing Souls has such a compelling story is because of how it handles one of the darkest feelings we can have. It is important to see these kind of things shown in gaming, because in gaming you can relate to characters because you get to play as them, live through them in their world. Death is hard to deal with, and that’s okay. Chris gets by with the help of his friends, and that is possibly the most important lesson that this game can teach.