A Mortician's Tale: “What would a mortician’s private emails look like?”
October 20, 2017 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Video games have never really gotten death.... Death in games is a punishment, a roadblock, a temporary setback, an opportunity. It's not a real end; it's mechanical, never philosophical.... A Mortician's Tale ... takes death—the real thing, that universal human experience of being divorced from all sensation, from existence itself—and handles it in direct, even quotidian ways. It makes the end of life visible, and in doing so crafts one of the only meditations on death in videogames that feels authentic.

A Mortician's Tale (game trailer) is more than a mortuary simulation, it's a narrative-driven death positive video game where you play as a mortician tasked with running a funeral home, doing everything from preparing bodies for burial or cremation to dealing with a large, corporate funeral service and their push to up-sell grieving families. And you see your work to completion, as described by Julie Muncy in her review for Wired (also linked above the break):
After every body prepared, the game brings you to the funeral, where you have a moment to confront the human cost of all of this, to see it and identify with it. A Mortician's Tale insists the player mourn, if only in an abstract, impersonal way.

The great intelligence of A Mortician's Tale is to bind all of this action to the simple structure of a click-based simulation game, in which you do most everything by clicking on the mouse. Games in this style are often browser-based, and compel the player to perform simple, repetitive tasks, either on a schedule or to gain concrete rewards. Here, the clicking emphasizes the mundanity of the mortician's tasks. Here is one of the scariest things in the world, happening in the most casual way. Click the scalpel, make an incision. Drain the blood. Don't forget to wash your hands when you're done.
One Of 2017's Best Games Is About Being A Mortician -- Cecilia D'Anastasio reviews the game for Kotaku, with GIF'd screencaps and more plot summary, if you want to know what you might be getting into here.
“What would a mortician’s private emails look like?” is a question I now regret never asking.
But it's not a training to become a mortician, as some elements crossed the line in terms of general squeamishness and game ratings, as discussed in an interview with Gabby DaRienzo, the game creator, by Kelsey “Kelso” Eriksson on an episode of her Deathcast program. DaRienzo talks about being influenced by Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, the book by Caitlin Doughty and her Order of the Good Death, as well as friends and colleagues. She's also very interested in death in video games, and made a podcast series to discuss the topic, called Play Dead (Cast).

Gabby also referenced Death & The Maiden aka Dead Maidens, which "[strives] to portray death in its entirety, and encourage our contributors and audience to confront this often challenging topic through science, literature, art, first person narratives, culture, history and current events."
posted by filthy light thief (7 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Excellent post. :) Lots of good links to dig into. I know what I'll be reading through this weekend.
posted by Fizz at 1:48 PM on October 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

This looks amazing. I got to see Doughty on her recent tour for From Here to Eternity, which is all about various death rituals all over the world. Most of the reading was actually a Q&A, which was great. I'm currently on a break from buying video games (until I finish a couple of the ones I own), but I will definitely check this out when I am done.
posted by Hactar at 1:57 PM on October 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Same Hactar, I'll pick this up inevitably when it hits a Steam Sale.
posted by Fizz at 2:02 PM on October 20, 2017

Try playing in Hardcore mode in Diablo 3. Your character grows/levels up, adds gear, builds strength and vitality.... But if you die in the game, that is it: death. Your character is gone with all items it was wearing and you cannot ever play it again.
posted by CrowGoat at 3:39 PM on October 20, 2017

But if you die in the game, that is it: death. Your character is gone with all items it was wearing and you cannot ever play it again.

Permadeath can make for a very fun play-style. I don't do it too often but occasionally in a game like X-COM or Fire Emblem, it adds so much tension to have death hanging over your head. Knowing that taking your favourite sniper into a mission is a risk because if you lose, that's it. They're gone forever. All those hours of grinding to get them skilled up and equipped have been wasted.

And it's not just the loss of items/skill it's also the attachment to their character. Usually when I'm playing X-COM-esque game I'll rename all the characters to the Beatles or Ninja Turtles or the cast of Saved by the Bell. A few weeks back I lost Screech to an alien sectoid who took control over A.C. Slater's mind and used him to attack my very own character. One and done. Screech now lives only in my memory.
posted by Fizz at 7:20 AM on October 21, 2017

I'll admit, it's been a long time since I've played any video games beyond some Lego Wii titles, where you keep coming back after each "death," with the only "damage" being that you are down some coins, but do you really grieve your permadead characters, or is it an annoyance?

In the Deathcast episode, Gabby DaRienzo says the in-game death that was most impactful to her was when she killed a Big Daddy in Bioshockand the little girl actually cries because you killed him. Watching the video clip of gameplay and not being immersed in that world (and knowing what would come next), I didn't personally find it too moving, but I can see how it could be a shocking reaction to see in a game. And then they talk about That Dragon, Cancer as a tragic, unwinnable game about terminal illness, which is something I can't foresee playing any time soon, having two young boys of my own.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:19 AM on October 21, 2017

Would love to see a Let's Play from ColdChef.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:58 PM on October 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

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