Death comes for us all. It’s one fact that many societies try to sidestep. Because of that, many of us don’t know how to react when it arrives on our doorsteps. We’re so overcome with the enormity of the situation that we forget the person we lost. We can’t honor them through this haze. As gamers, we see many representations of death, but they tend to be gamified, flat situations without emotional weight. A Mortician’s Tale is one of the few titles to investigate the rhythms of authentic situations.
Forced upon a face
We step into the shoes of Charlie, a new raven-haired mortician. Most people would recoil when they just read the job description. That’s the point — the game gives us an easier way to learn about an industry that most try to avoid at all costs.
As gamers, we see many representations of death, but they tend to be gamified, flat situations without emotional weight.
The art style helps the players to overcome their initial revulsion, too. Lines are clean, characters are cartoony, and the world wears soft grey and purple hues. It’s reminiscent of a goth Animal Crossing. Nevertheless, it can still be quite a shock to encounter a dead person for the first time.
This is because, even though it looks stylized, it still guides the player through the various tasks of a mortician. Different clients want different things. For some, you’ll have to pump a body full of embalming liquid, for instance. These slow, deliberate procedures feel like ceremonies as you complete them again and again.
The dead aren’t just objectives or numbers, though. You learn a little about each of their stories through the emails on your in-game computer. As you prepare the bodies, you can’t help but think of your own experiences with death, or perhaps even how your death would affect loved ones. In the end, you would like your own mortician to be as conscientious as Charlie.
An message of life
That, of course, leads the player to an important message of A Mortician's Tale: one can honor a person’s life with their treatment in death. It takes being conscious of what that looks like. Even small gestures, like the funeral parlor’s décor, can honor the specific tastes or preferences of a person’s path. This is the main aim of the whole ritual, after all.
Today, it’s easy to lose sight of that original focus. As we stress about coffin models, venue costs, and invites, we forget that it’s a celebration of a real person’s life. Little of their complex personality finds its way into the event itself. As a result, it’s easy to see how the modern funeral process can dehumanize the dead.
The dead aren’t just objectives or numbers, though. You learn a little about each of their stories through the emails on your in-game computer.
After the procedures, A Mortician’s Tale also transports us to the funeral reception to reinforce the fact that the body we worked on was once a person. We hear the conversations of loved ones. They can range from the mundane to emotional. This is a more accurate, multifaceted reflection of these events than most depictions. Here, we can also pay our respects before we move onto the next case.
Currents of inspiration
The different assignments in A Mortician’s Tale feel real because of the marriage of details. Members of Laundry Bear Games, the developer, drew on their own real-life experiences with death when they created the people’s stories. These tales are still broad enough that players can project their own memories onto each character, though.
Charlie’s journey isn’t easy, either. She has to confront changes that challenge her core principles. It’s interesting to see her grow during the story. While we learn facts along the way, we form our own opinions, too.
A Mortician’s Tale is a short game. Average playthroughs are usually around an hour long. Still, it packs that playing experience full of questions, and none of the moments feel like mere filler pieces. It knows what it wants to say. In a world full of epic games, this might also feel like a refreshing change for busy, time-constrained gamers.
The death positive movement’s philosophy informed many of the game design choices. Caitlin Doughty, a mortician who bears a resemblance to Charlie, has played a significant role in raising public awareness of this approach, which tries to open discussions about death. Proponents of the philosophy believe that it is through these discussions, especially with loved ones, that there can be a positive change in people’s attitudes towards death. It might also alter the funeral business’ practices.
The death positive movement’s philosophy informed many of the game design choices.
Fear and anxiety can prevent us from confronting an issue. An uncomfortable issue, such as death, can overwhelm a person when it’s coupled with the emotional anguish of loss. Art can help us navigate those waters before it flows into our lives. For this reason, A Mortician’s Tale is an invaluable doorway to a greater comprehension of what it means to be mortal.
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