Have you ever said goodbye to your best friend, knowing that would be the last time you’d see them in person? What did that feel like?

For me, it was a hole carved in my chest, a vacuum sucking air out of it. An intense pain right behind my eyes as I stood on the precipice of tears and a shudder running down my spine. No tears came, but now I wish they had.

Friends apart, memories remain.

According to a survey by YouGov, millennials — people aged 22 to 38 in 2019 — are the loneliest generation. One in five millennials say they have no friends; three in 10 say they often feel lonely. The study gave no reason why this many of us feel lonely, or why so many of us aren’t making friends. But I know how difficult it is to do. So what happens when you have to say goodbye to your best friend, knowing it would be the last time you’d see them in person?

The Gardens Between is a 2018 indie puzzle game on all platforms by The Voxel Agents. I played it on Xbox One via Game Pass. It’s got an interesting mechanic where you can rewind and fast-forward in time and change events by using certain contextual items.

As you manipulate time through progressively-more-complex spiraling stages, the characters you play as — Frendt and Alina — relive some of their favorite moments through the debris scattered on these islands. The further you proceed into this archipelago, the mood shifts. Night falls, and it starts raining, and the music hits a minor key.

And I realized what The Gardens Between was about right about here. Right when that tone took a dive. And I felt the same feelings: that tightening of the throat and burning behind my eyes. And I kept going, because after completing each stage, I got a glimpse of a memory, and each memory was happy, or exciting, or adventurous. And I liked those memories.

I didn’t want to say goodbye to my best friend. Saying goodbye felt so final, and I was positive that there’d be time to make more memories like the ones I enjoyed. The thing is, it was final. My friend was leaving, no matter what. In navigating the strange puzzles of The Gardens Between, I realized that it was the conversation about change, the celebration of cherished memories, and the coming-to-terms with the pain of losing someone you love — whether wholly or in part — that I hadn’t wanted to have.

I won’t spoil the ending for The Gardens Between. If you have Xbox Game Pass you can go play it for yourself for free. But when it came, the tears I kept myself from shedding finally flowed. And I’m glad they did.

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2 thoughts on “Processing Loneliness in The Gardens Between

  1. I’m glad you found a little closure while playing this! Saying goodbye to a best friend is such a terrible feeling. Sounds like this game is pretty intense, but the graphics look beautiful and the mechanics sound interesting. I’ll have to give it a try!


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