What's going on everyone?
I know summer break has just started and many of you probably don't want to think about the upcoming school year, but I really want everyone (I'm looking at you ELA teachers) to begin considering a lesson about the Giant Sparrow game What Remains of Edith Finch. I don't think I've ever played a game like this. The storytelling in What Remains of Edith Finch is among the best I have ever seen in video games. As Edith, the titular character of the game, you simply walk throughout an ever expanding home, investigating its secrets and knowledge. The narrative of the game unfolds through varying styles of storytelling. There are few resources out there that I believe can do a better job of teaching, or showing, creative writing in action. You can find the lesson plan here.
In What Remains of Edith Finch, you play as Edith, exploring your family estate to discover the reason why you're the last remaining member alive in your family. You slowly navigate through each family members' room uncovering the unnatural causes of their deaths. This is a very narrative driven game, where even the dialogue interacts with the environment. Where the game shines is the moment when you learn about each death in the family. You are transported to the moment they died, but each story is told through a completely unique perspective and utilizes completely different storytelling devices. Some stories are told from the perspective of children, one from a camera lens, another as a comic book, and several are hallucinations. The subtitles are even physically integrated into the gameplay. Enough cannot be said about how wonderfully unique this game is and it is perfect to get those creative juices flowing for our students.
What Remains of Edith Finch is the perfect game if you ever needed examples of creative writing. Some students can naturally write beautiful and unique stories without much thought, but it can be difficult for many students to be “creative.” We can tell them to use their imagination, but sometimes students need visual examples of what creative means. Whether or not something is creative is often very subjective and not every student will know how, or where to start a creative writing piece. Allowing students to interact with a number of different creative stories is a means of getting them to think outside the box.
Two themes that tend to permeate throughout my teaching are identity and resilience. Imbedding discussions around identity helps engage my students with the content. Many of my students' education has been interrupted due to constant moving and the need to work because of economic hardships. Because of this, it is very important for me to find ways to get my students to connect with the material. What Remains of Edith Finch features a large cast of characters that face a wide range of conflicts. The main conflict for several of the characters revolves around a crises in identity, and remaining resilient when death is on the horizon.
The Finch family is cursed. Each member believes they are destined to die of unnatural causes. Some of the characters go about their lives normally, a few meet death willingly, and others shape their entire identity around postponing their inevitable death. They stay resilient until their final breaths. For some Finches, this was for the betterment of their lives. However for others, their resilience turns into a stubbornness that actually serves to hinder any real personal growth. It is great for viewers to analyze how people can often make very different choices when faced with the same dilemma.
My students are not always the easiest group to teach. As I have mentioned in other posts, they are all newly arrived immigrants and English Language Learners. They also arrive with enormous differences in ability due to varying levels of education quality in their home countries. Getting my group of kids to become strong writers is a really difficult task that I still haven't mastered. Even getting them to want to write is a challenge. Using games like What Remains of Edith Finch, however, engages them in ways I haven't seen previously in any of my classes. There are a number of reasons why this may be the case, but I believe it is because the central idea of this text focuses on identity and resilience in the face of adversity. Most students can write about identity, and most of our students are resilient in some way, shape, or form.
Playing this game won't just get them excited to write about the game, but it will get them excited to write and create their own stories. I recommend playing this game even if you're unable to find a way to incorporate it into your curriculum. It got me thinking about storytelling and narrative in ways I hadn't done before. Every classroom contains students that need different ways of showing their strengths, abilities, and creativity. What Remains of Edith Finch exemplifies that stories can be told through a wide range of different modalities, any which can be adapted, or modified, by our students.
I will be teaching an ELA elective class in the upcoming school year. The class will focus on using video games as the main texts and will ultimately help prepare my students for the New York Common Core English Regents Exam. The first semester will utilize What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home.
Thanks for reading,