Why I Think We Can All Benefit From GRIS Right Now

A poignant tale about overcoming sorrow and loss told through gorgeous hand-painted animation is exactly what we need to help get us through the COVID-19 pandemic.
April 3, 2020 3:22 PM by Morgan Shaver

GRIS released two years ago, yet I found myself thinking about it again over the last few weeks from a slightly different perspective. I’m torn between wanting to elaborate on this and talk about the COVID-19 pandemic, and not wanting to talk about it at all.

After much deliberation, I’ve decided to go ahead and talk about it as it’s one reason why I think we can all benefit from playing GRIS.

Every day I read a new story about someone’s friend or family member passing away due to COVID-19 complications and it breaks me. We have a habit of talking about COVID-19 deaths in numbers and percentages right now which makes it easy to forget that every single one of those reported numbers was an actual person.

They were grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, teachers, colleagues, nurses, doctors. They all leave behind loved ones struggling to cope with grief in the midst of a god damn pandemic. Because of how contagious COVID-19 is, people are unable to say proper goodbyes in the hospital. They're not allowed in. The loss is abrupt, unexpected, painful.

It’s overwhelming to read these stories, but we have to.

© Nomada Studio

The urge to replay GRIS sprung up because of how it tackles feelings of loss and grief in a way that’s both palatable and easy to understand. It’s not just death that we’re dealing with, I think a lot of us are feeling lost, like everything is crumbling and falling apart all around us.

Trying to suppress our anguish, hopelessness, grief, and pain isn’t helpful as those feelings always bubble back up to the surface. Only by recognizing them and working through them can we heal and become stronger. I think GRIS is a great tool to help you do this. At the very least, it helped me. I lost a friend early this year. Not to COVID-19, but to a terrible accident. It was hard to process. To be fair, I've never been able to process loss well.

I lost another good friend in 2014. I wasn’t able to attend their funeral. I lost my father when I was 15. I was never able to meet him even though I desperately wanted to. I tried to ignore the grief I felt, disassociate from it entirely, but it returned front and center when I played GRIS for the first time, and again the second time. I cried a little bit less the second time.

I truly believe that GRIS has helped me sort through some of those complex emotions, and that it can help other people in similar ways. 

What is GRIS?

© Nomada Studio

GRIS is a game about a girl lost in a surreal world who must work through her sorrow in order to reach a place of peace. GRIS does this by showing you, rather than telling you. With its superb use of visuals, you’re better able to connect to the story and to its main character, Gris.

As Gris works through her sorrow, you’re likewise able to work through your own. It’s all about what you see and how it makes you feel. The game uses changing colors both in its backgrounds, and in the dress that Gris wears. 

© Nomada Studio

The environments are varied to complement these  color changes, going from buildings to forests to underwater caverns. It encourages you to take your time and soak in the scenery.

Speaking with The Verge on the game’s creation, Nomada co-founder Roger Mendoza explained, “We tell a big part of the story through the statues while relying heavily on the colors.The colors mark the progression of the story and the characters. That’s why at the beginning we did a color script to see the general palette of each area to make sure it worked well with the story.”

GRIS is able to easily convey different stages of grief thanks to its expertly crafted levels, all boasting unique color profiles.

© Nomada Studio

In color psychology, every color has the ability to invoke certain emotions. For example, blue often represents sadness, and yellow happiness. It depends on your current state of mind. Red could signify anything from love to anger, passion or a warning. To identify the emotion a color is intended to convey, you need context. GRIS goes above and beyond to deliver  on that context.

As you play, there’s never any confusion as to what Gris is feeling. Take the white in the intro for example. It’s the very absence of color. It’s loss. It’s emptiness. As you move through the game, you’ll begin to notice that the levels are no longer singular in color, they’re dynamic. Some of the scenes that use a sorrowful blue now have things like bright yellow, orange, and red focal points at the center.

It adds realism and depth. It also makes sense as emotions themselves have many layers. You can feel glimmers of happiness even when you're depressed. It doesn't mean you're no longer depressed. In GRIS, the added colors are like little beacons of light and hope shining through the sorrow. They tell you that you're getting closer to where you want to go. The colors all have a purpose in GRIS. I like to think of them as puzzle pieces that need to be pieced together in order to see the full picture.

Continuing that thought, the game’s opening intro is almost like the box your puzzle comes in. You see the picture you’re going to get once it’s complete which encourages you to see that puzzle through to the end. It’s one of the most beautiful game intros I’ve ever seen.

© Nomada Studio

In those first few minutes, Gris falls from a world full of color down into a blank, colorless void. When she gets up and begins to walk forward, head down, it’s impossible to not feel her pain. As human beings, we recognize body language, even when that body language is told through a character with pointy legs. Gris moves slowly, her hair hanging over her eyes.

Eventually her legs betray her and she falls to the ground. When she gets back up she stares at the empty sky above her, then puts her head in her hands. There is no choice but to keep going – she can’t stay in that area forever as tempting as that may be to her – and that’s where you come in as the player.

You move Gris forward and bind yourself to her for the duration of her journey. You feel what she feels, you see what she sees.

© Nomada Studio

If you’ve experienced loss, you’ll recognize the stages of grief present themselves one by one as Gris moves through them. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the loss Gris has suffered, it’s easy to understand and empathize with her plight. Feelings of loss, sorrow, grief don’t have to be exclusively connected to death either.

You can feel sorrow when your life is uprooted. Loss when something you valued greatly has been taken away from you. Grief when you see others suffering and are unable to help them. As in GRIS, peace can be found like a light at the end of a tunnel.

All of these emotions may be stages you have to work through, but they’re not permanent places of existence.

© Nomada Studio

Slowly, little by little, you’ll move closer to a place where you can rest. Where the pain becomes a part of you that you can manage because you’ve seen every angle of it. You know all of its colors. I really feel like GRIS is an important game to play right now in how it captures this delicate subject.

In a world that’s flooded with sadness, fear, frustration, and uncertainty, we need reminders that you can take the power those emotions hold over you away when you separate them and take them apart. Seeing them represented in color, art, structure, and design are all great ways to do this.

If you’re lost and looking for a place to start, I highly recommend GRIS.

In the end, it’s a game about healing, and we could all use a little healing right now.

GRIS is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mac, and iOS.