Gris was created by the newly-born Nomada Studio and published by Devolver Digital in 2018. It proved to be a revolution in the world of indie gaming. Gris created a parallel between gameplay and the experience of loss.
Grief is an inescapable part of human life, one that everyone is forced to deal with. Many forms of art choose to represent the experience of losing a loved one: for example, the recent movie Pieces of a woman directed by Kornél Mundruczó; or the 2017 Oscar candidate for Best movie Manchester by the sea, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. Or even, moving to a different media, Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
A game in which you never die
In indie gaming, there has been a recent rise in emotional, story-driven narratives. Two examples of this are Journey and Ori and the Blind Forest. These two titles inspired Roger Mendoza and Adrián Cuevas, the two Ubisoft developers who created Gris. When they met Conrad Roset, an artist who had always wanted to take part in the creation of a videogame, they decided to leave their jobs and found the Nomada Studio. The heart of the game was established by the three of them, but up until its completion, less than 20 people had worked on it.
Mendoza and Cuevas’ goal was to create an accessible game, that could be played by anyone; thus the decision was made to rely on simple platform-adventure gameplay. In the developer’s words, “If there’s a puzzle, you can probably finish it at the second or third try. When the puzzle is more complicated, we give the player options.” Unlike most games, the main character cannot die, relieving the player from the pressure of failure.
Communication through music and color
To approach the theme of grief in Gris, the developers consulted with a practicing psychotherapist. They chose to represent Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief through five different levels. Each level features a different aesthetic and a different predominant color. Every scene is painted in watercolor and the results are stunningly beautiful. They often invite the player to stop and admire the care and creativity poured into the art direction. Many places, real and imaginary, have served as inspiration for this game; for example the Iwagumi-style aquariums, or the city of Naboo in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace for the crumbling architecture.
Another unusual feature of the game is the total absence of dialogue or text. The player has to figure everything out from quick tutorials, hints in the scenery, and the music, which was composed by Berlinist. The score is one of the most remarkable parts of the game, as it complements the story and actively moves it forward.
A touching experience
The fact that the gameplay is so easy to approach leads the player to focus on the story and the character’s emotions. This allows the ending to be as touching and bittersweet as it could be. The player feels the same as Gris, experiencing the stages of grief with her. However, the whole game can be finished in less than 5 hours; no more than a Netflix miniseries. The replay value is not high either; it would be more like rewatching a movie than actually replaying a game.
Gris was first launched on the PC and Nintendo Switch, but it is now available on Playstation 4, iOS, and Android. The game has sold over one million copies since its release; a sign that the gaming community is becoming more and more open to different kinds of gameplay experiences, looking for something more thought-provoking and heartfelt. Gris was an experiment, but a wonderfully successful one. It was able to change the concept of video games for both the gaming industry and the people outside of it.