The House In Fata Morgana

Writer's note: Although the previous diary entries have veered away from big spoilers for The House in Fata Morgana, this one does not, because it's hard to talk about the themes without specifics. Be warned!

As a content warning, topics discussed in this piece will include trauma, gender, abuse, and coming out.

Finally, please be aware that this isn't a review — it's the last entry in a four-part game diary ahead of a review, a short series which enabled us to truly deep-dive into the themes of a game that earned so many 10/10 reviews that it had a perfect score of 100 on Metacritic for a time.

For those of you who still want to find out more about Fata Morgana: Welcome to the final entry entry...


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I did it.

I finished The House In Fata Morgana.

It took me 40+ hours over four months to see the end of this sprawling, tangled, time-hopping story. I mean, sure, I haven't actually finished the DLC yet, but to be quite honest, after four months of playing this game whenever I have time, I think I have reading fatigue. I feel like I should get an award. Wrapping up on Fata Morgana feels about as monumental as finishing my three-year degree. I am a changed woman.

here's what I love the most about Fata Morgana: I'm not sure I've ever played a game where I've known every single character this well

At the end of the main story (including an epilogue, another epilogue, and a prologue), here's what I love the most about Fata Morgana: I'm not sure I've ever played a game where I've known every single character this well. I know them better than their own mothers. Better than their therapists, even. I've seen the ugliest parts of them, their hidden hearts, their desires and fears; I know what makes them tick. This can only be achieved through brilliant writing, and that's exactly what you'll find in Fata Morgana — yes, there is a lot of writing, but almost all of it was gripping and gorgeous.

At the beginning, every single character is deeply unlikeable. I loathed the weak-willed Mell and his petulant sister, Nellie. I found The Beast — a cursed, wretched creature — to be intriguing, but gratingly self-pitying. And Jacopo, the supercilious, short-sighted, power-hungry mogul, had absolutely nothing likeable about him, except maybe his nice coat.

Jacopo is pretty unforgivable, even at the very end of the story. The DLC attempts to redeem him a little more, at least
Jacopo is pretty unforgivable, even at the very end of the story. The DLC attempts to redeem him a little more, at least

Woven through all of these stories was the White-Haired Girl, a kind but ultimately pathetic young girl who let everyone walk all over her, to her eventual detriment. I was angry at her: why don't you stand up for yourself? Why don't you yell at anyone? How can you be this consistently subservient to people who don't deserve your respect or your kindness?

Well, I got my answers towards the end of Fata Morgana. In fact, I got a lot of answers all at once, and it was very overwhelming and a little confusing, but I think I have it all straightened out now. The answer, you see, is — as you may have been able to guess from my last diary entry — trauma.

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I said earlier in this piece that I know these characters better than their own therapist, but the fact of the matter is that none of them have therapists — probably because medicine in their time periods mostly consisted of "I dunno, try bleedin' them again?" A good old psychoanalysis would have solved maybe all of the problems presented in the story, but time-travelling purgatorial mansions will have to do.

Oddly enough, it reminds me of a fairytale I read when I was little, in a book filled with weird stories. It was about a kid whose tooth fell out, and he wrapped it in shiny paper until it was the size of a beach ball — but when he unwrapped the ball again, the tooth was gone.

Trauma is a bit like that tooth. It's a tiny canker in your heart, and when you try to wrap it up, it will leave bumps and lumps that will rub up against other people's hearts and hurt them. Sometimes, the thing at the heart of the ball dissolves all on its own, but the lumps are still there. Those lumps are coping mechanisms — learned behaviours that affect how you deal with other people, and the world at large. The lumps are what matter in the end. Not the trauma at the centre of it all.

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If your trauma is about feeling helpless and powerless, then you may overcompensate by needing to be the most rich and powerful person, and even if you're doing it to make sure your loved ones never suffer the way you did, you can end up neglecting them in search of more wealth and strength. If your trauma is having your trust betrayed, you may never trust again — even with people who deserve it, who could heal you.

That's Fata Morgana in a nutshell: unwrapping that tooth ball, dealing with the lumps as they occur, and because it's a painful process, soothing the person involved. Fata Morgana is emotional surgery, and it's not always delicate about it. But by the end, I didn't want to do anything else other than digging right in with a scalpel and excising all the hurt.

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It's such a huge testament to the writing how far it goes from the rocky, repetitive first few hours. I truly hated almost every single character at the beginning, and by the end, I wanted to give all of them a hug. They felt almost real — deeply flawed people with complex feelings and relationships, and excellent characterisation that made them all incredibly believable.

Get ready for big spoilers now, okay? You have been warned.

The best characters of them all are ones you don't even meet until late in the game. Michel, Giselle, and Morgana are the actual trifecta behind what you think is the trifecta — Mell, Bestia, and Jacopo — and it is the tension between those three that makes the latter half of Fata Morgana so gripping.

Each one of them comes from tragedy, and each one deals with it differently: Michel turns inwards, pushing everyone away in an attempt to spare himself the pain of love and loss; Giselle is sunny and loving, but hides her pain deep in her heart, afraid to show anyone out of fear that they will spurn her and treat her as "damaged goods"; Morgana, who has arguably suffered the most, puts up with it all in a saintlike manner, letting people hurt her time and time again because she thinks it is her duty, until she fractures her sense of self almost beyond repair, leaving behind only the part that seeks revenge.

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Michel, Giselle, and Morgana are all invisibly united by their very nature: each one of them is marginalised in some important way. Giselle and Morgana come from poverty, and both are women, treated poorly again and again by men who seek to use them as objects; throughout the game, they come to find their own power, but it takes them a long time to overcome what has been inflicted on them by others.

Michel — who slowly transforms from a cold, unfriendly, forbidding man into a soft, warm-hearted but awkward darling, is easily my favourite of all, and his dialogue and history make up a large part of the meat of Fata Morgana's backstory. Michel is born intersex in the early 1000s, and his story is brutal, cruel, and dark, as his mother tries to disown him, and his former crush tortures and demeans him. But Michel's existence and identity is not treated as a freak show, or as a shocking twist; instead, we see him, Giselle, and Morgana treat each other delicately, carefully, and kindly, even though the rest of the world didn't.

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Fata Morgana is about choosing a family, and moving into a kind of happiness that comes after utter despair; it is not "misery porn", and it does not wallow in despair

The thing is, in real life, this is exactly what queer communities do: they band together, supporting each other through the worst pain and trauma of their lives: familial exile, isolation, illness, rejection, fear, and denial are all common experiences. But in my experience, the people who come out of that are determined to be kind and fierce, as protective as a mother bird, and ready to form chosen families that provide the love and care that they were perhaps (but not necessarily) denied.

Fata Morgana is about choosing a family, and moving into a kind of happiness that comes after utter despair; it is not "misery porn", and it does not wallow in despair. Instead, it seeks to keep moving forwards, even though the journey is hard, even though the current is against you. Michel's tale is not about his identity, nor his trauma, but it's about how he heals, and how he finds belonging. I've never seen a story of gender identity and queerness told with such care and love and detail before. For all the supernatural weirdness that swirls around Fata Morgana, at its heart, it is a story about people — messy, imperfect, but ultimately good people, trying to do what's right, and trying to figure themselves out, too.

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In keeping with that theme, slowly, ever so slowly, we find out that the "bad guys" — Mell, Bestia, and Jacopo — come from tragedy, too. Their tragedies, though, are largely self-inflicted; where Michel, Giselle, and Morgana are used and abused by others, the three men are instead thwarted by their own fatal flaws, and end up hurting other people in the fallout. Happiness is right there for the taking, and yet, it slips out of their grasp because they aren't willing to let themselves be vulnerable. Of course, they get their own happy endings, too — but not after being chastised for their mistreatment of others.

But, as I said, this is all packed into 40 hours of story that moves between fast-paced, action-filled chapters and slow, occasionally torturous periods of downtime. It's just... so long. There's so much of it. Sometimes, that works in its favour — a tense, drawn-out reveal hits harder when the tension part is 20 hours long, after all — but a lot of the time, especially with the sheer amount of utter misery and despair in the story (you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, and you can't tell a story about healing after trauma without, you know, the trauma), it can be a little exhausting.

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In that way, Fata Morgana is a lot like therapy. You'll go in expecting it to be relatively easy, but by the third hour, you'll regret your decision to begin; by the tenth hour, you'll think that maybe you've got everything figured out, only to make some huge discovery that sends you back to square one; when you finally reach a satisfying ending, you'll realise that therapy is all about reliving and re-examining the worst parts of your life in order to finally move past them.

Fata Morgana is a tough game to play through, and a lot of the time, it's hard work. But just like therapy, it's worth it all at the end — and you'll come out of it raw, but new.