The Wreck : Intimate therapy

French studio, The Pixel Hunt offers “games of reality”, video games inspired above all by everyday reality, drawing their inspiration from today’s world while borrowing a documentary and journalistic aspect. He is best known for Bury Me, My Love, a game that follows the journey of a Syrian woman seeking refuge in Germany. The player is invited to guide Nour by replying to her text messages, via a cell phone interface, giving her advice and suggestions. Inspired by the true story of Syrian migrants, published in Le Monde, The Pixel Hunt blended emotion and documentation to produce a gripping, deeply human and realistic result. Anchored above all in reality. So we shouldn’t have expected anything less with The Wreck, their third game released in March 2023. You could call it a visual novel or a highly narrative game. But if you’d like to find out more about this studio and their next title, don’t hesitate to discover the Tales from the Devs dedicated to them!


Our heroine’s name is Junon. She loves romantic comedies. These are the first words she confesses to us, as she lies on the floor of a hospital toilet, the victim of a malaise. Immediately, the humor and intonation – in an English with a French accent that’s disorienting at first – set the pace. In fact, it’s almost embarrassing. What are we to make of this half-baked stream of thoughts and remarks, somewhere between cynicism and irony, which will accompany us through five hours of gameplay? What are we to make of a protagonist whose inner speech is so invasive and cluttered, sharing her thoughts with us in the slightest conversation, recalling a memory or an anecdote at the slightest object? We’re inside her head, we can only accompany her. But there’s something both unsettling and funny about this speech that breaks the 4th wall by speaking to us. (Or so it seems at first.) It tends to recall the verve and shamelessness of a certain Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag, in the way she shares all her embarrassing and crude remarks with us.

Screen title of the game, looking as a desktop computer, with a crashed car and Junon's feet.

In the hospital, despite the solemnity of the setting, the colors are pastel and soft, and the lighting effects are subdued, sometimes making elements of the decor sparkle. The 3D shots are reminiscent of old anime, and the staging is sometimes reminiscent of close-ups of seemingly innocuous corners of rooms, like a gaze held in suspense for the time of a thought. A vaporous effect softens the atmosphere a little, while Adrien Larouzée’s synthesized music alternately evokes melancholy or restlessness. For Junon is here for a reason: her mother, Marie, is gravely ill. And, to top it all off, since she doesn’t have her mother in her heart, she has been appointed by her mother as the person she trusts to decide whether or not to go ahead with terminal illness. A terrible, bewildering choice, especially as Junon was never informed of this decision.

Our heroine’s apparent phlegm has been swept aside. It’s the last straw in an already complicated relationship with Marie. Junon loses her temper and leaves the hospital, abandoning her mother and running away from the responsibility imposed on her. She starts her car, furious. A ray of sunlight blinds her, and she doesn’t see the deer crossing the road. Tires screech, skid, accident. Time slows down as the car spins in the air, bringing out various objects from the glove compartment. Each of these is a symbol of a memory into which the heroine must immerse herself, gaining additional sensitivity and understanding that will help her to stop running away from the conflict. To move forward and evolve throughout this terrible day, condensing her whole life.

If you haven’t played the game yet, spoilers start here. Don’t hesitate to make your own shattering experience of The Wreck before coming back to read the rest!

From mother to daughter

The Wreck is an adult game. Although it can be considered a slice-of-life game, with a day that seems to be the sum of Junon’s entire existence, it is far removed from the initiation and learning questions of other narrative games. For the passage from adolescence to adulthood, Life is Strange and Tell Me Why shone with their storytelling and their way of recounting the infinity and violence of adolescent feelings. The Wreck, on the other hand, is closer to Firewatch, where we play the role of a middle-aged man forced to deal with his wife’s premature dementia and question his life. The Wreck is thus one of those all-too-rare games in which you play a heroine in her thirties, with an established identity and a life well underway. It’s an opportunity to tackle other, more mature themes, and to explore them in greater depth. It’s hard, then, for the player not to recognize herself at least once in The Wreck, so authentic and moving are the plot and its themes, that they inevitably echo within us: a family situation, an impacting bereavement, a trauma, a way of life… And that’s just to scratch the surface of the game’s main themes and, above all, its subtle writing.

Functioning almost like a huis-clos, The Wreck takes place solely in the hospital where Marie is confined: the only escape routes to other places are in Junon’s memories, after each car accident. For she will have to go down this doomed path several times to find understanding and empathy in past moments. She then comes to the final choice: whether to let her mother die, abandoning the pursuit of life-saving treatment, or to maintain it in order to save her, or to leave it to fate.

Junon's 25th anniversary

From the outset, one of the main themes is the mother-daughter relationship. Junon is not Marie’s only child, as we also meet her half-sister Diane, who has also come to the hospital to see their parent. Although they don’t share the same father, they do have the same mother, which helps to explain their bumpy start in life. Marie gave them names taken from two Roman mythological goddesses: Juno, divinity of marriage and fertility, and Diana, divinity of the hunt and the moon, both with a warrior temperament. This was probably to counter their mother’s name (from a very religious family), simply named Marie, after the mother of Christ.

This desire to give Mary’s children two strong names is not insignificant. Detached from her own family, Mary wanted to give them a more independent upbringing than she had had, giving them the weapons to face a world she saw as dominated by men, described as predators from her point of view. By making them “strong”, strong-willed women, she wants to empower them to stand on their own two feet, warning them to trust only themselves. It’s a vision marked by a patriarchy experienced as oppressive and dangerous, a testimony to Marie’s difficult childhood.

“We’re not forced to play by her rules, the every man for himself, the sink or swim. I find that… I don’t know… It might be her story, but it’s not ours. And I’m not sure she really believes it herself.”

But if this demonstrates a feminist commitment, hell is paved with good intentions. By treating them harshly, by encouraging her daughters to be wary of everything, Marie hasn’t created the matriarchy she so hoped for. Above all, she encouraged Junon and Diana to live a relationship of rivalry and competition between themselves, each wanting to be the favorite of a demanding and distant mother, reluctant to show them any feelings, seen as signs of weakness. Fortunately, the two sisters eventually manage to get along well and support each other, but this rivalry leaves them with a difficulty in communicating sincerely. Marie’s overt lack of tenderness has transformed their mother-daughter relationship into a toxic, overly uncompromising one, causing her daughters to distrust her and weigh her words carefully. Instead of congratulating Diane on her lesbian coming-out, she congratulates her on “her active emancipation from the patriarchal injunction to heterosexuality”. Rather than encouraging Junon’s writing dreams in a positive way, she criticizes her for not being “old enough to be a mediocre writer”, since she confines herself to advertising and TV scripts. This is no doubt the method of pushing your child into the pool to teach it to swim.

The lack of love between Marie and her daughters is obvious, and is merely a reflection of what she experienced as a child. An echo of her own relationship with an authoritarian, bigoted mother who never showed her any affection. A mechanism that Marie can only reproduce with her daughters, because she was unable to break it, keeping in her mind the role of rejected, unwanted child, the product of rape, going through a childhood filled with blows and ambiguous glances from alcoholic and toxic parents.

This is undoubtedly one of the game’s most poignant subjects: this original trauma, transgenerational and transmitted from daughter to daughter until the circle has been broken. This is what Junon calls the curse or the disease, the flaw she refuses to pass on to her own daughter Astrid: the absence of love given and of self-love. Not receiving it from her mother has contributed to making Junon an adult dependent on others, unable to think she can make it on her own, unable to think she’s enough to have a life she can be proud of. That’s why she considers herself a much lesser artist when it comes to writing, compared to Marie’s visual works, which she is considered as a genius.

Junon and her mother Marie talking in the car

However, it is Junon who is trying to break the vicious circle of this generational transmission. The name she chooses for her daughter, Astrid, is taken from the film How to train your dragon by Chris Sandler and Dean DeBlois, where the heroine Astrid Hofferson is an intelligent Viking with a strong personality. A singular reference, but also lighter and more human. Far from raising her with harshness, presenting the world as a perpetual enemy, Junon transmits a great deal of love and self-confidence to her child. And yet, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion, as evidenced by a memory in which she wonders how to be a “good” or “bad” mother, worried about the world in which she lives and all its problems: pollution, war, demonstrations, the fear of damaging her child as she did her own mother…

Overcoming the toxic and selfish ties with Marie, a much healthier mother-daughter relationship is born between Junon and Astrid, allowing a family trauma to be healed and broken at last.


This understanding of the ambivalent relationship between Junon and Marie – always with the desire to please an over-demanding mother, who can never express gratitude or trust to her children – allows us to understand our narrator’s journey a little better. It soon becomes clear why the game makes us relive this car accident over and over again, like another trauma that we return to, unravel and relive over and over again, as if to find the key to a solution. If Junon keeps running away from the slightest conflict, it’s because the situation is getting out of control and making her rethink something that strikes a chord with her, something she doesn’t yet have the emotional state and intelligence to deal with. Yet it’s the mechanism of memories that allows her to reflect on her inner workings and gradually unlock this reflection, this questioning that allows her to move on with the day, rather than running away from it.

The Wreck is also a video game about grief. And a difficult one: that of a child. We understand that Junon lost Astrid in a car accident, but that she survived. That it’s her daughter she’s talking to, when she addresses all her thoughts to us and comments on every scene: a narrative given to the one who will never be there again. Junon has been carrying the weight of this death and guilt for years. “It can’t have been five years.” Like an impossibility of accepting this loss, of surviving it and moving on, with this nagging absence and this feeling of being the murderer of her own daughter.

Pause screen during the game, looking as a movie script where the story is told.

As a consequence of this loss, we come to talk about Alex. During the game, Junon’s ex-partner calls her, leading to a telephone conversation that is as moving as it is heartfelt. This is how we learn of their separation after Astrid’s death, as often happens in real life, with each parent facing a personal grief that often distances them from each other. Alex lived with savior syndrome, overprotecting Junon after the accident. He took on the couple’s day-to-day life, supporting his partner, taking on household chores, making sure he was an insurmountable rock, even if it meant forgetting his own emotions. Forgetting to listen to oneself in order to escape the pain doesn’t mean doing oneself any favors. Sooner or later, the pain comes back and manifests itself, leaving you even more lost and melancholy.

Junon, on the other hand, has taken a different path in the face of insurmountable sadness: apathy, and a form of emotional dissociation. Indeed, Diane reproaches her for her coldness in the face of what strikes Marie, accusing her of being detached, an emotionless machine. But it’s a survival mode Junon has learned since the death of her daughter: expect nothing, feel nothing, desire nothing. It’s the only way she’s been able to keep going after such a traumatic accident. This prevents her – voluntarily or involuntarily, given the complexity of her defense mechanisms – from connecting with her emotions and any introspection that would force her to face her pain head-on.

By denying her feelings, Junon experiences what is known as survivor’s guilt, a syndrome felt by people who have survived when they could have died just as much as others, in an accident or war, for example. Not surprisingly, she also feels guilty, having been at the wheel of the car in the accident, and is convinced that she has somehow killed her daughter. As a result, she prevents herself from finding happiness or even truly rebuilding her life, taking refuge in apathy and coldness, leading to depression. The Wreck illustrates this sense of sadness and isolation with a striking memory sequence in the bathroom. We see snapshots of the family’s life before and after the accident: Junon brushing her teeth with Astrid, the removal of Astrid’s belongings, Alex cleaning and tidying up, Junon alone in the bathroom in front of the mirror… frozen moments, images in midnight blue light, expressing the loneliness and bewilderment of the characters, shattered by the accident.

“No one can explain to me how you live with it. How you do it.”

The Wreck tells the story of bereavement with striking finesse and subtlety, with everyone reacting differently, without one reaction being better than another. For it’s a testament to everyone’s temperament and uniqueness, to the varied ways in which we take life’s blows, without judgment, without saying what’s right or wrong, in a pain that can only be personal. Learning to rebuild oneself, to re-authorize oneself to live, takes the time it takes, months or years depending on each person’s resilience, by finding ways to escape the pain for a while (apathy for Junon, concentration on work for Alex), until we’re in a state to face it, physically and mentally. Throwing away Astrid’s broken cup causes the heart to stop beating for a second, but we understand that it’s just an object. The giant doll’s house given to Astrid by Marie, a token of his love for her, is thrown away so that Astrid’s ghost never haunts it. So, we simply accept to live, keeping a place for the absence. To forgive ourselves. To tell ourselves it was an accident. To let go. Acceptance has a bitter-sweet flavor, inevitable and saving at the same time.

Trauma and memory

As mentioned above, it’s not insignificant that Junon relives this traumatic car accident over and over again. It’s both a memory mechanism and a gameplay mechanism, a way for her to introspect, as well as a way of showing her post-traumatic stress disorder. One of the most common symptoms of this disorder is the avoidance of any subject that might lead to her emotions, and for Junon, this means returning to the accident and her daughter’s mourning. That’s why she becomes so defensive during the game, to avoid any introspection. Reliving the traumatic event in invasive flashbacks is called intrusion. Her emotional avoidance, with its detachment from Marie’s situation, may also be one of her symptoms, as may her partial amnesia of the accident.

Junon screaming her despair in the bathroom

Escape from conflict situations and discussions that can lead Junon back to traumatic memories and inner conflicts is no longer just a narrative pretext for evoking memories. It’s a pure defense mechanism. It’s a distraction from confronting her emotions, from facing up to them until she’s ready; a distraction she’ll eventually avoid, however, once she’s more sure of herself, once her memory has returned and her emotions accepted. The game’s entire plot allows Junon to arrive at this path, little by little: realizing that Alex hid his pain and didn’t seem insensitive, putting herself in the place of others, like Diane or Marie, to understand their reactions, accepting Astrid’s absence by imagining a conversation with her ghost, understanding that a phone call from Marie allowed her to get back on her feet and not to commit a suicidal act…

“It’s because of the life that’s stored in these boxes.”

Necessary steps that were impossible for her to take while she was still in a state of depression following the accident. For this journey can only be made over time, by looking back at oneself. Five years since Astrid’s accident: behind this phrase, repeated three times, lie three thoughts: five years passed too quickly since Astrid’s disappearance, five years that seem an eternity of pain, five years in which Junon could only stay put, barely surviving. Five years of apathy, unable to evolve, five years in which she felt herself rotting, unable to adapt and overcome external dangers. She speaks of this with a certain irony in the memory of the lobster, an animal whose way of life echoes her feelings and experiences. And also to be a metaphor for what humanity is capable of, capable of devouring itself.

But once this journey has been made, the memory can become clear again. The memory of the accident is revealed in its entirety, like a liberation, perhaps putting an end to the guilt carried for years. During the accident, we learn that Marie was also present, and that she tried to undo Astrid’s jacket: a banal gesture that led to the unbuckling of the little girl’s seatbelt, and to her death when the car hit a deer. A simple gesture during the conversation in which Junon tells Marie that she will break the family curse, and make Astrid a much happier girl than she has been. Everything intertwines and intersects in this climax, with the final path finally fully traversed, allowing Junon to make one of the most difficult decisions of her life.

Growing and evolving

Of course, it’s the player who decides Junon’s final choice. Choosing medical euthanasia, according to the trophies, is the so-called “Kill Bill” ending, in a spirit of revenge, of coming full circle. “Maman très chère” (Mommy Dearest), which refers to therapeutic overkill, is much more about forgiving Marie, leading to an initiatory conclusion of redemption. Finally, “Unbreakable” makes the choice to wait and hope… perhaps in the hope of a happy ending. It’s a complex decision, when you’ve known people like this between life and death, with no real hope of recovery. And it’s all the more complex when, at the end of the story, we realize, along with Junon, that Marie is far from being the detestable person we thought she was; that she too has gone through a traumatic and violent existence, even if understanding doesn’t mean accepting everything.

You’d think that with all these difficult themes, The Wreck would be more than depressing, more than sad. It draws us in, makes us smile thanks to Junon’s humor; and at the same time, it presses on sensitive places and experiences we’d rather not see (again), forcing us to look at them, just as Junon must look her life in the face. Frontally, with a power and authenticity impossible to deny. But this sadness has another sensibility: that of picking oneself up afterwards, of finding within oneself the strength to rebuild, to keep moving forward. The Wreck has the merit of shedding light on our questions of adulthood, far removed from the adolescent period of construction: what has built us and given us cognitive patterns of functioning, defense mechanisms and more or less good inheritances, passed on by our parents, self-love and self-esteem, the type of life we wish to (re)invent for ourselves, our adult responsibilities towards our parents, the future we want to give our children.

Beyond her poignant story, there’s also hope for a better future, points of light here and there, to the tune of music that’s as melancholy as it is uplifting. As in therapy, we have to face up to the past, to what hurts, to mechanisms that have become futile and yet are held on to by habit, to find another way of living, to show that we can continue to evolve despite life’s breaks.

Through her memories, remarks and reflections, Junon tackles a multitude of themes specific to her experience and age. With several years of adulthood behind her, she is able to look back and understand herself better. To understand that until she was twenty-five, she played a role in her family as we all do, taking on the role of the clumsy, creative go-getter, in contrast to the genius of Marie and the solidity of her sister Diane. That in the years that followed, she also played a certain role as companion and mother, maintaining a way of life that suited her, but didn’t yet allow her to be herself. Yet this is said without animosity or bitterness, like a constant benevolence: these are things that are, cognitive patterns of life created by childhood, which are what they are, and which we can then choose to improve.

“And I was as dependent on her as I was on him. Unable to get out on my own.”

The lonely building in the night where Junon lives.

This allows her to understand that with her mother, and then with Alex, she has always been in a form of emotional dependence: leaning on them, paying more attention to what they wanted her to be, rather than being herself. Hence a feeling of failure as a daughter, wife and mother when these patterns break down, when she has to reinvent herself and get out of these ill-balanced codependent relationships. And that’s even if there are occasional relapses along the way, like sharing a moment of love with your ex again, or hating your mother for the sake of it.

Her struggle, when she finds herself in a souvenir apartment building, alone for the first time in her thirties with no one else around, is to find herself, no longer dependent on others. To shed all the female roles she’d been assigned, to fully reinvent herself, without the weight of others. To do this, she turns to a solution that has always been comforting to her: movies. Watching hundreds of films, including those dealing with the loss of a child. Watching and absorbing works of fiction, over and over again, to find an echo in her own life, to find an instruction manual to tell her what to do. A search for understanding through cinema, just as Alex did with books, and just as Marie herself portrays herself as dead in paintings, to atone for the car accident. Art as understanding and solution, as an aid on the road to reconstruction. Just as, tirelessly, we turn to stories to help us live.

And isn’t that also what Junon does in writing The Wreck, to move forward? The game begins and ends with a scenario she writes, that of her own story, as a necessary therapy, a restorative fiction for others seeking a solution and a representation of their pain. A story to find oneself in, a story that will in turn echo in others, at the cost of tears.

The challenge is met: The Wreck touches the heart.

“In a sky dark or pure whether it sets or rises, what does the sun matter? I expect nothing from the days. I desire nothing from all that it illuminates; I ask nothing from the immense universe.

Isolation, Alphonse de Lamartine

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