Sometimes life is hard. It can be riddled with irritating, chafing challenges. It can be filled with disappointments. And sometimes it simply feels flooded with a sense of personal uselessness, aching hopelessness and even throbbing grief.
So what do you do then?
There have been scores and scores of books written, and counseling sessions delivered, on that topic. And Lost Words: Beyond the Page—a Google Stadia game that will soon be released on PC and major consoles—is a lovely videogame that tackles that dragon of a subject, too. And it does it with a 12-year-old girl, a beloved granny’s sage advice … and a dragon.
Isabelle Barbara Cook is a delightful young girl who’s about to go through some tough times. Things aren’t all bad: She has a mom and dad, a cute baby brother, a cat named Pinkie and a wise Gran, who all surround her and lovingly support her. But difficult days are coming. And that truth is quite literally spelled out in two parallel narratives that use the power of words in fun creative ways.
One tale is told through Isabell’s journal entries, which represent her real-world story. It follows Izzy and her family as they deal with her much-loved grandmother’s hospitalization following a stroke. The fully voiced narrative dictates the words as the central character writes them. And those words can be moved around the page, becoming creative platforming-game challenges as a tiny Izzy figure leaps from one sentence to the next—revealing unspoken thoughts and filling up the journal pages with drawings and colors along the way.
Izzy’s Gran has always encouraged her to follow her dream of becoming a writer. So the second narrative thread is a fantasy story that young Izzy writes to initially entertain her ailing grandmother. It’s an adventure yarn about a young girl in a fantastic place called Estoria, a town protected by magic-imbued fireflies that live in a tree on the nearby border. The young girl has recently become the new Guardian of the Fireflies and given a book in which to write magical words.
Gameplay in this second tale involves using that book of magical words—such as rise, break, repair and the like—to clear obstacles and build a way forward. It seems a dragon has nearly decimated Estoria and scattered the fireflies, and the fantasy story’s young female protagonist must give chase and try to set things right.
Those two entwining narratives are, of course, both imaginatively designed to explore Izzy’s feelings as her grandmother’s illness gets worse. And when that illness continues to an inevitable sad conclusion, the journal and story entries help gamers, young and old, wrestle with the emotions that arise out of great loss and the sometimes overwhelming grief that can follow.
The game uses Gran’s own words and her pieces of thoughtful advice to help Izzy find her way back from the dark, hopeless places she initially goes. And there’s even a large whale—part Gran and part godlike figure—that helps guide Izzy’s fantasy persona back to more healthy waters.
There are some slight kid concerns to be aware of in this E-rated game. The words “blast” and “d–mit” pop up a couple times. And Izzy’s fantasy protagonist encounters a djinn-like character that uses magic to bar her path and speaks of once being worshiped by a nearby village of people.
Ultimately, though, Lost Words: Beyond the Page, is more of a light, casual gaming treat than anything really problematic. It delivers a tender, creatively crafted and emotional tale that could well help some gamers work through the natural aspects of loss and grief while encouraging them to reach for help and hope for a better tomorrow.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.