A Mortician’s Tale: Exploring Death through Interactive Storytelling

When I wake up every day, I normally go through the usual routine: wash my face, dress, brush my teeth, pack my breakfast, check the weather. But today I woke up and remembered something was different.

Today, A Mortician’s Tale released. So today, I got out of bed and immediately checked to see if I could buy it right away. It didn’t release until noon, so naturally, I kept it open in a tab at work, ready to purchase it no matter the price.

A Mortician’s Tale is an indie game developed by Laundry Bear that follows the day-to-day work of… well, a mortician. You play Charlie, fresh out of mortuary school and recently employed by a mom-and-pop funeral home, Rose & Daughters. It’s inspired by Caitlin Doughty and The Order of the Good Death, and it includes many of the concepts surrounding the death acceptance movement. The game is brief — I finished it in an hour — and the mechanics are not strenuous at all. I thought I would have to memorize the embalming and cremation processes, but each time you tend to a corpse, the game walks you through what to do. I thought I’d have to navigate social situations surrounding grieving family members, but the game doesn’t require it.

Instead, the game introduces players to death acceptance concepts — home funerals, green burials, etc. — and allows players to acknowledge the dark and unaddressed feelings they may have surrounding death and dying without being heavy-handed about it. In fact, a lot of the daily work that’s often considered gruesome becomes rather routine with every new body to embalm or cremate. But the plot of the game, as short as it is, is a reminder of how disassociated much of Western society, in particular American society, is with its dead. And it is a gentle introduction to the notion that death does not have to be scary or “other.”

As a death worker, I’m already familiar with the concepts introduced by A Mortician’s Tale. I have already read Doughty’s first book, and I know what embalming and cremation entail. There’s always more for me to learn, but I recognized Charlie’s story and already knew its happy ending. But what I didn’t expect was how strongly some comments made by the grieving relatives moved me. At one point, I had to pause because I was actually crying. And when I reached the end of the game, when Charlie’s morals and beliefs manifested physically, I felt inspired by her devotion to the dead. “Me too, Charlie,” I thought. “Me too.”

Needless to say, I absolutely recommend this game. It’s only an hour long, so it won’t take much time out of a person’s day. It’s easy to play, and its brevity prevents the average person from getting bored of the rote tasks involved with cremation and embalming. It teaches players about death positivity and death acceptance. It ends in hope.

A Mortician’s Tale can be purchased here.

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