Dealing with loss: Managing pain through playing

When time and space make no sense, immerse yourself in these games that tell you the only way out of pain is to feel it all over again

By Author  |  Published: 22nd Feb 2020  6:43 pm

Loss is one of life’s constants; a state from which it is not only difficult to recover from but, at times, it is an event that transforms everything that follows it. This article is an attempt to make sense of it on some level and then find a possible way through games to not merely move on but accept the cards that life has dealt us.

In life we all face difficulties and unbearable losses at times; such is life after all. However, once it happens, we all go through the five stages of grief and then hope we all can find some meaning and perspective to the ensuing madness. By looking at three games, we attempt to see how reliving or re-experiencing the pain could help alleviate some of it; when all seems lost.


One of the best indie games ever made, Firewatch is a game about moving on after a loss that changes everything. A game that tell us the story of a widower who loses his wife to early onset dementia, Firewatch helps the protagonist find purpose and the simple pleasures of a conversation. A simple game that is set in a forest in Wyoming, the underlying message is quite powerful and is reinforced doubly when you play through it.

That Dragon, Cancer

An autobiographical experience, That Dragon, Cancer is a game that tells the story of a mother whose child is diagnosed with terminal cancer when he is a year old. A game that requires the player to live as parents who take care of their terminal child, this game presents the experience in 14 episodes where imagination, fantasy and living memories meld together to offer hope.

To the Moon

A game that was designed when the developer had to come to terms with his grandfather’s dying illness, it helps you come to terms with imminent loss. This is a game where you play doctors who fulfil the wishes of dying patients. To the Moon allows you to not merely mourn a loss but celebrate what was achieved.

Things in life seldom happen the way one plans, the grief of significant loss is not something one can easily overcome. When time and space make no sense, the only way out of the pain is to feel it again (I am told physiotherapy works that way) but then as the Canadian writer Louise Penny puts it, “things are strongest where they are broken” and it’s only through the cracks that the magic can get in.


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