Tail & Trails Reminds Us That Scary Monsters Have Feelings
Tail & Trails is a short game about grieving monsters. In it, you’ll be taking a three-headed lizard out for a walk. Now, most of my encounters with monstrous lizards in video games usually end up in some sort of fight. This time, the creature has no interest in killing or eating you. It’s just lost its beloved Grandma and is quite upset. While I know this lizard is a stand-in for a pet left behind after someone passes, it got me thinking about the monsters we often fight in games and how they have feelings, too.
Your grandma has recently passed away. While the main character is probably hurting, there’s no time to focus on your own needs. Grandma’s three-headed lizard seems lost and heartbroken. It hasn’t emitted its cute little bark since the owner died. Now that they’re under your care, you need to figure out how to get them out of their funk. Hopefully a little walk will help the poor creature feel a bit better. Maybe you’ll even find some neat things along the way to cheer it up.
Well, cheer THEM up. Each of the monster’s heads has a distinct personality. You’ll spend most of your time throughout Tail & Trails trying to figure out who likes what. As you walk around a forest path, you’ll find little treats and items scattered around. While there’s some cool leaves and sticks, there’s also hot dogs and other food just kicking around, too. Perhaps some people fled the area knowing there was a grieving monstrous lizard? At any rate, there’s plenty of things to share with your sad reptile to make them feel better. Assuming they like what you give them.
Every item you find has a few stats to it like color, flavor, and what kind of object it is. Each lizard head responds to things differently. Some like salty stuff and others don’t. One of the heads might not like a toy. A given head might be really picky about the color of an object. You won’t know any of this going into the game, though. Sort of like how you probably didn’t know that a Hunter Gamma’s favorite food was people while playing Resident Evil, you had to find out by trial and error. It’s not quite as bad when you get it wrong in this game, thankfully.
As you explore Tail & Trails with your new pet, you’re trying to get to know them. You’re both grieving, but the poor monster probably doesn’t understand its own feelings. Does the three-headed have a concept of death? Does the Armored Spider in Demon’s Souls have anyone it loves that it would miss after they died? It sounds like I’m being purposely silly, but while this lizard is cute, it’s the kind of creature that I’m used to fleeing from while playing most games. Yet here, I’m thinking about its feelings and trying to get to know it.
While your main character is likely also sad, we don’t learn much about your feelings. Instead, we spend all of our time helping this three-headed lizard. Which, honestly, has been my own way of navigating grief. It’s not easy to face your own feelings after someone you love dies. What is far more doable is to try to help lift someone else up. I tend to try to find things to do or help other sad people during these times. Helping another person gives me something to do that lets me avoid my own feelings. If they’re grieving as well, though, it also allows me to tangentially address my emotions. If I’m not facing those feelings directly (say, if I was helping someone else with similar sadness), then they’re a lot easier to endure.
So, helping out a sad monster is a good way of helping the protagonist face their grief in Tail & Trails. Instead of focusing on how much you miss your grandma and the painful memories around her loss, you’re trying to make a monster happy. This takes time and effort as you guess which head will like certain items. You’ll continually try to find out what the lizards like as you take them out on walks and share treats and toys with them. Steadily, you’ll forget about your sadness as you help them cope with their own. Every time you discover something new that they like, they feel a bit better. And you feel better, too.
And while this all says a great deal about pets and grieving, I keep coming back to the fact that we’re doing all of this for a monster. An adorable one, but still a monster all the same. This got me thinking about the creatures I’d faced in other games. Even if some of them were downright terrifying, I started mulling over the emotions they must have endured. While the Twin Victims in Silent Hill 4: The Room are gut-wrenchingly terrifying, I felt pangs in my heart thinking of them after playing this game. If you’re unfamiliar with them, they’re a pair of murder victims that have been joined into a massive, unsettling creature that will slap you to death.
They scare the heck out of me when I play Silent Hill 4: The Room. At the time, I certainly didn’t spare a thought to this monster and what it must be feeling. These were children who died very young. They’re now a horrifying spirit that kills others. After playing Tail & Trails, I couldn’t help but think of them. What are these murdered twins feeling right now? Are they confused at their own violent passing? Do they miss their parents? Even though they want me dead, what are the complex feelings that run through their heads? Can they even understand their horrifying grief?
So many horror games begin with a moment like Tail & Trails. A creature has lost someone that cared for them. Now, this three-headed beast is all by itself out in the world. There’s no one to care for it and help it through this confusing loss. It’s sitting all alone in an empty home. What would happen if it was left all by itself? How about if some unkind people came across it? What happens to a creature like this when it has no one to love it in this dark time in its life? Well, that’s how you get horror game monsters, isn’t it? If you’re small children who are lost and confused and terrified in death, what happens when you have no one to help you?
Thankfully, that doesn’t happen here. Instead, the three-headed lizard meets someone who’ll care for it. Someone who’ll help it heal. There’s people who will help it through these awful times of grief, even if it doesn’t understand what’s going on. Tail & Trails explores a defining moment in a horror monster’s life, and walks you down a path that leads away from scaring and killing people. In doing so, it made me think of the cruelties many other horror monsters have faced, and helped me feel a sense of empathy for some of the beasts that have scared me in horror games over the years.