Eastshade: gaming, grief, and lockdown

Mild spoilers for Eastshade within.

One of the few joys of lockdown has been the chance to discover new games and play them for hours on end without interuption. I notched up 10 consecutive hours in Heaven’s Vault one Saturday back in May because it was so entralling, I just couldn’t bring myself to stop. And the light evenings back then meant I could still go for my permitted walk of the day afterwards. How fabulous!

For the past few weeks people have been feeling on edge, knowing lockdown restrictions could become harsher any at moment with little to no warning. For many, this uncertainty and lack of clarity has been some of the hardest aspects of the pandemic to deal with.

Now full lockdowns are happening again in parts of the UK – and it looks like next week the rest of us will join them. It will be harder this time with colder, wetter weather taking away our chance to enjoy time outside coupled with long, dark evenings.

Life has been reduced to trying to similtanously savour and grieve the things you know will soon be taken away from you again. Every weekend I go for what could be my last meal at a restuarant for a while. Or see a friend in a park for what could be the last time for a while. It’s hard to fully enjoy these activities though, because we just don’t know.

Over the past month I also had a grief milestone looming over me. On Sunday, the sad and grief-stricken day arrived where I had lived longer without my mum than with her. As always with grief-milstones, the build-up was very emotional and intense (and always worse than the actual day itself for some reason!). I felt quietly heartbroken and I didn’t have anyone to talk about it with who understood or knew what that day meant to me.

And then I stumbled upon Eastshade. What a beautiful, moving, life-affirming game! It gave me everything I didn’t realise I needed.

A screenshot showing a beautiful, green landscape with some mountains in the distance, and a hot air balloon rising into the sky.

It is very carefully and thoughtfully designed. At the start of the game, you travel to a small island populated with talking, walking animal folk. Your reason for visiting is that your mother really loved this place. You want to find and paint 4 beautiful views on the island that she told you about. She died an unspecified amount of time ago. This is OK though because the grief is quietly there but it’s not so raw it’s unbearable. You have gentle challenges to move the game along but nothing is urgent, nothing bad will happen to you and nothing can hurt you. You can find and complete other quests along the way but they are also small and gentle, like helping someone to find something. Or discovering the source of the music in the woodlands at night.

Exploring is the heart of the game. All the quests are designed to get you look around and discover something more and you are always rewarded for this. Every flower, beach, woodland trail, and sunset is just magnificent. It is so beautifully crafted. For example, the light changes depending on the time of the day. So I often found my way back to the beach, river, or tower top just to appreciate it during a different moment.

The sound design was also exquisite and again, I often found myself visiting places just to hear a particular piece of music, or the waves, or the sound of paddling my raft on the lake.

Another clever bit of design was the way that areas of the island opened up for exploration. At first you are in a small village, then the surrounding area, then the town etc. etc. You always had enough to explore and still feel free to do whatever you wanted without getting lost or feeling too overwhelmed. Just as one area might start to get a bit boring, another opened up. As you began to tire of walking around, you earned enough money to buy a bike or a pulley wheel. Then you could have fun whizzing around on wheels or zooming down ziplines to previously inaccessible areas.

When you return home at the end of game, you see the pictures you painted on the island and the letters you received from new friends made.

A screenshot from a cave on the beach, looking out to the sky, the sea, and a cliff face. A stone column divides the view of the sky into two.


Everything I’ve just described matches the criteria for boosting mental well-being, doesn’t it? It feels like the game was deliberately designed with this in mind.

  • Exploring your surroundings
  • Appreciating nature
  • Discovering new and exciting things
  • Helping others, and being helped in return
  • Overcoming challenges
  • Making new friends
  • Going somewhere new
  • Doing things to remember the people we love

We can’t do a lot of these things in real life right now, so I feel so blessed to have discovered this game at a time where I could benefit from it the most. Thanks to Eastshade, I can do these things virtually instead. I have a wonderful and safe place to return to any time I like.

That’s all great but why are you talking about it here, in your blog on bisexuality?

Good question! Well, one of the quests is to get two erm, female bearfolk, together. They have feelings for each other, but aren’t sure if the other feels the same. Your task is to invite one of them to a picnic so the other can tell them how they feel. So sweet! And I didn’t know it was coming so it was such a pleasant surprise.

This quest really made me smile. It was simple, joyful, LGBTQ+ inclusion in a really nice and meaningful way. The quest was treated exactly the same as any other in the game. That’s all I’ve ever wanted in the media I consume really, to be represented and treated just like everyone else.

Thank you for giving that to me, Eastshade. I love you.

A screen shot of a waterfall, lined by trees either side. Trees with green leaves on the left, and a deep shade of pink on the right. Again, the sun and moon are visible in the sky.

(In)Accessibility & Covid-19

TL;DR – we must make sure our society is as accessible as possible, and the bi+ community must keep organising online socials and events post-lockdown.


For many different reasons, the wider world was out of reach to a lot of people before the lockdown. Most buildings and public transport are not accessible. A disability or chronic health condition might keep someone at home. Someone might have caring responsibilities. Or things simply cost too much. Over 20% of the UK’s population lives in poverty.

All of the above issues affect bi+ people disproportionately.

Everyone’s experience of lockdown has been different, but for many the world has been brought within reach as services and entertainment move online. Flexible hours and home working become normalised as workplaces are closed.

But for those who don’t use the Internet or can’t afford it, what then as more and more things move online, often permanently, during the pandemic?

It makes me angry when people praise how innovative we have been and how well we have adapted to the current situation. Nearly all of these things could have easily been done before – if the awareness and the willingness to do it had been there!! So many people have been denied access to work or been forced to leave because companies refuse to offer flex or home working. So many couldn’t study because universities offered no alternatives to face-to-face learning, and penalised those who couldn’t attend every single lecture. And so many couldn’t socialise because friends and family never thought to hang out online before.

I’m angry with myself too. I set up and ran a group for bi+ people in Nottingham several years ago. I tried to be as inclusive as possible, for example I visited every single venue in the city centre in order to find an accessible one to host the socials. Yet I never even realised I could have held meet ups online for those who couldn’t attend in person. It seems so obvious now. I’m sorry to those I let down.

I’m angry at my governent. Their failings mean that a lot of people have died needlessly and continue to do so. They are doing a piss poor job of making the right things accessible to the people that need them. For example, food to those shielding, or having a sign language interpreter at daily press briefings. I celebrate and value the innovative ways individuals and charities pick up the pieces. I just worry because I doubt the government will take responsibility and put that infrastructure in place going forwards. They will force others to keep providing so they can keep the money in their hands. (When compared to similar countries, the UK has one of the biggest gaps between the richest and the poorest.)

As the lockdown is lifted over the coming months, I’m worried about the impact our socially distanced world will have if we don’t plan properly. Do pub chains really have to fix chairs to the floors in order to re-open? Can’t they just trust people instead, so that anyone who needs to move the chair (i.e because they’re on wheels) can? If the hard of hearing can’t understand what someone is saying behind a mask and a plastic screen, are alternatives being put in place to help people communicate?

In finding our ‘new normal’ we must not forget what we gained from this horrific pandemic. Employers must continue to offer home working where possible. And people must push back if companies try to take it away again!! Services and entertainment must keep some kind of home based alternative in mind for those who can’t attend in person. And we must remember this and we must push back if they start to forget in the future!!

What about the bi+ community? I think in the past it has left out those who couldn’t attend events in person and those based in rurual areas – but we have a chance to remedy this. It is our duty to keep organising online socials and events post-lockdown, and figure out ways to include anyone this format will not reach.