Home #Hwoodtimes There You Are:  The Portrayal of Grief in Animation and Games

There You Are:  The Portrayal of Grief in Animation and Games

By: Courtney Gardner

San Francisco, CA, (The Hollywood Times) 9/30/2021—There You Are is an animated short directed by Rui Huang and written by Rong Deng. The film tells the story of Su, a teenager in the throes of grief following the death of her mother. Su’s relationship with her father is complicated. He has a new girlfriend, Gina, who, for Su, is a sign that her father has moved on and forgotten about her mother. When Su’s plans for the traditional camping trip fall through because Gina would rather celebrate at home, we join Su as she goes through the stages of grief for her mother. When the corresponding game begins, I immediately recognize Su’s voice and her room. This time, however, Su moves in the direction that I want her to go in.

Su’s quarrel with her father

I am Su.

The first and most obvious difference between the game and the film is that Su’s inner thoughts accompany the player as they navigate through the game. While the surroundings and cut scenes are reminiscent of the film, there’s an undeniable physicality to the journey presented in the game. When Su becomes upset, her pace noticeably slows down. She hunches over and moves slothfully around her room and the world of her dark thoughts. Ingeniously, in times of rage and frustration, the game provides opportunities for the player to manually assist Su, by clicking, holding the mouse for a select amount of time, and releasing, in deep breathing. Ultimately, the player is the one who decides how Su interacts with the world around her. Players can even travel through time as they watch their decisions, the subsequent repercussions, and perhaps, deciding to go through the scene selection, can see the situation play out differently by picking an alternative response. Some may argue that these activities and interactive moments would be a waste of valuable screen time in a film, yet these are the moments that contribute to an incredibly rich experience, which establishes even more compassion for Su.

Deng, the game’s creative director, programmer, and writer, is passionate about immersive storytelling. She is currently working to understand the inner meaning of stories and how they can translate from one format to another. The film presents Su’s path, but it is predetermined. Conversely, as Deng tells me, the game provides multiple endings to the same story. As players move through the game, Su adapts to the decisions made, which later is seen in the next set of choices. The choices offered throughout the game offer a multitude of responses and perspectives, providing an invaluable lesson to witness what actions and reactions look and feel like, as well as how that influences your surroundings, from a safe, but familiar, 3rd person perspective.

Su with an interactive item

Ultimately, the film and game invite participants to vicariously live through Su’s life as she grieves. However, the game’s undeniable success, in both visually representing Su’s world, emotions, and thoughts, as well as including the powerful narrative, is in the additional meticulous detail that was added to each scene. When you are in Su’s room, for example, you can explore every crevasse and look at each picture on her wall, you can even change a picture that is on her wall, while Su provides snippets of information, which seamlessly ties her story together. The game provides an ample amount of time for players to explore as they determine their own pace, an incredible feature that is unique to the gaming world. Hopefully, Deng’s vision for immersive storytelling continues to thrive as more and more people become invested in this art form.

Video content:
Game Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63HUEsHjBiU

Movie trailer: https://vimeo.com/561170325
Game download:  https://solr.itch.io/there-you-are