Video Games and Grief: an Introduction

Creative Coping / Creative Coping : Litsa

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Today's guest author is Kailey Bradley. Kaleyis a licensed professional counselor in the state of Ohio, a nationally certified counselor, and a fellow in thanatology. She is also a doctoral student in counselor education at Ohio University. She is passionate about advocating for grieving individuals and especially passionate about creating brave spaces for grieving children and teenagers. You can find her counseling practice website here:

Unfortunately, many of us are given implicit and explicit ideas about how to appropriately navigate through grief and loss.  We are told that certain ways of coping are acceptable, and others aren’t.  In my experience as a grief counselor working primarily with child and adolescent grievers, I have learned that to companion someone in their grief means to meet them where they are and help them cope in ways that make sense to them!  Our clients can provide us with wonderful coping mechanisms when we reject the idea that we are the “expert”.

Several years ago, I came across a news article discussing a video game called That Dragon, Cancer which tells the story of a family who lost their son to brain cancer. It is powerful, moving, emotional, and led me to wonder if there were other video games that had grief-related topics. 

Sure enough, there were and what struck me was that video games can be an active part of the grieving process. I found that video games help us cope, craft meaning, and can facilitate continuing bonds. Who knew?  Regretfully, I had preconceived notions about gaming. One of these was that video games were a form of escapism and denial of grief. However, many of my misconceptions about gaming have since been rectified through my work with grieving children and teens.  In this piece, I will share several video games that my teenagers and children have introduced me to.   

Animal Crossing

The first game is Animal Crossing, which allows gamers to create and explore their own island.  Players can visit other players’ islands.  During COVID-19, when traditional funeral rituals were not accessible, players even held funerals for loved ones on Animal Crossing.  Visitors could also place a grave on their island to commemorate a lost loved one and visit it.  It struck me that these were amazing ways to facilitate continuing bonds, a grief theory that encourages grievers to honor their connections with loved ones who have died.  

The Legend of Zelda

The second game (or rather game series), The Legend of Zelda, is a fantasy role-playing game that offers and, I believe models a healthy escape from grief.  In reading and learning from my clients about Zelda, many indicated to me that it helped them to have a respite from the pain of their loss.  There is a lot of pressure if you aren’t “encountering” your grief. However, grief is a powerful presence, and we all deserve to both experience and evade our pain when needed.   

That Dragon Cancer

Lastly, as I already briefly introduced-That Dragon Cancer, is a beautiful image of how we make meaning after loss.  What doesn’t kill us makes stronger, or does it?  Maybe it is the meaning we craft that helps us frame, reframe, and engage with our loss.  I think this video game which painfully captures pediatric cancer is a perfect example that meaning-making is never something that can be prescribed.  The process of making sense or moving forward with grief is unique to each individual and what an honor it is as a helping professional to be present to that process.  

This list is short, and by no means comprehensive. They are merely a starting off point in thinking about video games and grief.  It is imperative that we allow ourselves to learn from those we are supporting in their grief and help them craft a coping skill toolkit that is relevant and helpful to them!   

We hope that this will be the first in a series of articles about video games and grief, as we've only scratched the surface! Leave a comment with your favorite grief video games or how video games have helped you cope with loss.

We wrote a book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
real-life book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.

You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books:

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2 Comments on "Video Games and Grief: an Introduction"

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  1. Megan  July 29, 2023 at 9:50 am Reply

    When my husband died suddenly I had a really hard time being around other people or even leaving the house sometimes. I played so many hours of AC Odyssey which was such a welcome reprieve. There is a lot of grief in the game, including grieving a partner, but just being in a complete other world for a while made this one a little easier to bear.

  2. RachelH  July 28, 2023 at 3:57 pm Reply

    I have found gaming especially helpful in my grief journey. I lost my little brother 3 years ago, and I was able to wrestle with complicated views on death through ideas found in video game stories. In Animal Crossing, you can upload your own designs (including photos) to a number of places on your island, and I did this with pictures of my brother and I, making tributes along places he would have loved. It was a good outlet for me to created something with my grief, and really, my love for my brother. Another couple games I’d recommend, they specially deal with themes of the transition from life to death, or what comes after: Spiritfarer and Cozy Grove. My brother had a hard life and there were times we fought so much. One of the characters in Cozy Grove talked about how they had died and the last parts of their life, they felt embarrassed about their behavior. But they came to realize that “we are not defined by our last days” – that quote has stuck with me and allowed me to feel like I didn’t have to mention the hardships every time I talked about my brother. Because he is also not defined by the worst days of his life. And I hope that none of us are, in the end. Anyway, I really appreciated this article and I very much recommend gaming as an alternative way to navigate grief.


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