If you’ve never considered yourself a lover of video games, that all is about to change. Inspired by Caitlin Doughty and The Order Of The Good Death, A Mortician’s Tale is a narrative-driven game set in the fictional Rose And Daughters Funeral Home — it’s also a nail in the coffin of unimaginative first-person-shooters as de facto video game experience. The creator behind A Mortician’s Tale is Gabby DaRienzo, who originally designed a simple pixel art prototype she called Mortuary Simulator. As proved by the success of The Order Of The Good Death, though, people are hungry for a way to connect with mortality in a way that isn’t sterilized or hackneyed and so DaRienzo decided to craft A Mortician’s Tale into a full interactive experience. The game is currently in development at Laundry Bear Games, which DaRienzo co-founded with Andrew Carvalho, and is slated for release in 2017. At least something to look forward to, right?
The recent rise of female-designed games exploring death and the body is a welcome one. In an article for A MAZE Magazine’s Death Issue, DaRienzo says that video games are the perfect medium “for getting the player to directly deal with things like death.” In A Mortician’s Tale, players take on the role of recent graduate and new Rose And Daughters employee Charlie as she goes through all the day-to-day tasks of working at a funeral home, from preparing cadavers to meeting with the deceased’s family.
Part of what makes this game “death positive” is that nothing is intended to frighten or traumatize. Rather, A Mortician’s Tale works to normalize death, which has become culturally-obscured and mysterious as the advent of modern hospitals removed it from the public sphere. Where in the past a person would likely die in their own bed and be prepared for burial by family members rather than by strangers, the modern death industry has turned a ritual of recognition and grieving into one of aberration. We are scared of hospitals, reluctant as children to visit dying grandparents in the white rooms with their tubes and shaking hands. We discuss the virtues of burial versus cremation but not what death is likely to look like in a future where even a return to old “death values” is not the answer — for many of us, the nuclear family model no longer serves. Will we die alone, or in urban housing like the Baba Yagas retirement movement started in France? How do we deal with loss? A Mortician’s Tale is a piece of that puzzle: “an informative, honest, and sometimes humorous look at the current state of and the future of the Western death industry.”
In the game, players follow Charlie’s career at Rose And Daughters as it transitions from a family-run business to one owned by a massive funeral conglomerate. They will have access to all parts of the funeral home, from the viewing room to the morgue, and will prepare bodies for burials and cremations using realistic tools and detailed processes. Moreover, they will meet with the deceased’s family and absorb different methods of loss and remembrance, reflection and sorrow. A Mortician’s Tale is an intimate look at a cultural taboo; even those curious about rather than frightened of death currently face a lack of both information and “appropriate” venues for acquiring it. We are steered away from being “grief vultures” or pronounced “morbid”; when we experience it we are told to “get over it” and “move on.” DaRienzo’s game is a type of moving on: one that takes us from a world where artifice and obfuscation preside to one where the grave — whatever shape it holds — is no longer a dirty word.
Keep up with A Mortician’s Tale via the Laundry Bear website, and follow Gabby DaRienzo on Twitter and at The Play Dead Podcast, where she talks with developers about how they’re using death in their games.