Finding Paradise Explores How Childhood Trauma Can Echo Through Our Lives

By Laura Kate Dale on at

The following article will discuss some Finding Paradise spoilers in detail.

Finding Paradise, a five-hour narrative game released in December 2017, follows the life of an elderly man who, on his deathbed, reaches out to scientists to try and change his memories so he can die feeling more emotionally fulfilled. The game is a sequel to the much beloved To the Moon that pulls no punches, and players experience the coping mechanisms, pain, and knock-on effects of the protagonist’s childhood fear of abandonment and simultaneous social isolation. It proved a healthy catalyst for processing a lot of feelings I hadn’t thought about in years and, in a way few games can manage, made me think about who I am now.

Finding Paradise is the story of Colin, a man who grew up socially isolated for unspecified reasons. His loneliness is revealed to players via the story of his time looking after an injured bird, which he repeatedly makes mention of as his only friend during that period of his life, with most of the emotional bonding shown in a one-hour wordless experience called A Bird Story.

Colin’s fear of losing this solitary companion manifests in some unhealthy ways. He takes the bird to a vet in the hopes of helping the animal, but later steals it back from the vet due to separation anxiety. When the bird is eventually healed, and able to fly again, it leaves him, flying away and never returning, establishing a solid sense of abandonment that sticks with him well into adulthood.

As a child, Colin is too young to really understand that this loss wasn’t his fault. For him it symbolises his lack of worth, and as a result Colin spends several years following the bird’s flight by trying to fill that emotional void with a companion who won’t ever have to leave – an imaginary friend called Faye.

But Faye is ultimately Colin’s own creation. Anything she encourages him to do, talks him through, or advises him on is just him working through his mental processes, providing his own solutions. As a result, Colin grows to feel a disconnect between what he is capable of alone, and what he needs support to achieve. The long-term impact of Faye’s presence is that Colin grows to feel like many of his life’s achievements are not fully his own.

Later in life, Colin comes to the realisation he has to part ways with Faye and take more agency himself. As an adult he seems mostly happy and well-adjusted, but there is an underlying dissatisfaction he struggles to shake. Whether he wants to acknowledge it or not, there’s a void left by the absence of a truly reliable companion.

Experiencing Colin’s story in Finding Paradise made me re-examine many of my childhood experiences in a way I hadn’t really considered them before. Childhood abandonment, isolation and loss are some of the most difficult emotions to process and move on from, often lingering into adulthood for those who go through them during their developmentally significant years. Growing up I had brushes with all three, and even now I find myself trying to unpack a series of complex emotions, and the possibly unhealthy coping mechanisms through which my younger self created a sense of stability.

At a very young age my biological parents divorced, and I went on to live with my mother and her new husband. In the years that followed my biological father routinely forgot to turn up for promised visits, leaving me sat staring out the front windows of the house, refusing to move from the spot because dad promised he was coming, so he was coming, and must just be a little late. There were nights I fell asleep on the stairs waiting for him.

That sense of being abandoned by someone who should have been an emotional support fostered a deep fear of abandonment in me. I was already a socially isolated child due to growing up with an autistic spectrum condition, and as a coping mechanism I came up with an imaginary friend called Mark.

Mark appeared when I was six or seven, and persisted for a considerable time. He had to have an empty seat next to me in the car when we travelled, and offered a mouthpiece for a lot of the autistic spectrum issues I otherwise struggled to verbalise, like needing a buffer of space from physical contact, or foods I struggled to eat due to textures. Mark was an advocate for my needs, and a companion when I felt unable to connect with or understand others.

While I eventually moved on and left Mark behind, playing Finding Paradise made me realise how those same kind of coping mechanisms persist into my adult life. I currently live with my parents’ cat, whom I took in when they went travelling abroad for a year and has stayed with me ever since. My relationship with Smudge may be a little one-sided, but she has always been a dependable companion. I know that she’ll come and find me twice per day, even if only to pester for food. She’s a source of living contact, someone to talk to, and someone to play with who’s probably not ever going to decide they have something better to do or somewhere better to be.

Another aspect of Colin’s story is that he keeps stuffed toys considerably past the age that most children give them up. The game leaves the reasons for this ambiguous, but we can infer this is because of their permanence and stability as an (albeit inert) companion. I also still sometimes hug a stuffed bunny rabbit toy, one I’ve had since I was an infant. It’s a stable companion, something I can rely on. I once thought I’d lost it a few years ago, and the void felt awful. It may be just a stuffed animal, but it represents a constant, some stability.

Finding Paradise has a final note that hits even closer to home for me, in Colin’s aspiration to fly as a career. Colin’s desire to learn to fly comes from his ‘abandonment’ by the bird which flew away, and his keenly felt urge to somehow follow.

I had childhood ambitions to learn to fly that similarly came from the fear of abandonment. My biological father and his family all grew up in Canada, which he considered home. When he would fail to turn up for planned visits, I would daydream that he had gone back to Canada and that was why he wasn’t here. I developed an urge to fly, to be able to follow him if he left. For years I worked hard at school with the goal of becoming a pilot. I did work experience at an airport, attended air cadets, and dreamed of flying until my late teen years.

That dream died the day I came to terms with my father’s abandonment. He travelled to Canada with his entire family, minus me. I realised following someone who has abandoned you won’t make them stop abandoning you. Almost immediately, I lost the urge to fly.

Colin does eventually learn to fly, but he doesn’t fully enjoy it. When his wife asks why he pursued a career as a pilot, he can’t quite articulate the reasons, or what pushed him in the first place. He mumbles vague thoughts that amount to “just because”. But we know his lost passion is because flying would never bring him and the bird back together, and if it can’t do that then what’s the point?

Finding Paradise is an incredibly acute examination of deep childhood themes. It shows the consequences of fear of abandonment, loss, isolation, and how coping mechanisms play out over the long-term. Playing it helped me put words to years of personal experience, and relate to a video game in a profound way. The game can be completed in around five hours, and I devoured it in a single sitting.

It is a raw and powerful example of how games can deal with complex topics. I felt the deep importance of seemingly minor elements in Colin’s story. How aspects of it reverberated throughout a whole life. It made me want to say thank you to Mark, Smudge and a stuffed bunny rabbit for being there when I needed them. It made me think again about my own experiences, and how I’d coped. We all want to find paradise, feel happiness, whatever the specifics of that might mean for you. Finding Paradise is a beautiful story about one person's attempt to find solace in that search.