My inbox is crazy right now with questions from students who want to know about the differences between a conventional funeral and a green burial, young women who want to know how to become a death positive funeral director, random people who want to know if [insert alternative death practice] can be done where they live, journalists who want to talk about my various projects....
I love that these conversations are happening and am grateful people think to ask me to be part of them at all. Because of the generally obscure nature of the funeral business, most of these questions are the same but I still struggled to put into words precisely what it looks like to do both conventional funeral work while also working toward something more sustainable. This will inevitably get easier when I start recommending they play A Morticians Tale, out October 18th from Laundry Bear Games.
I've been following this game since it’s early stages. I was in touch with the game’s creator, Gabby DaRienzo, to help clarify different aspects of working in a mortuary that she had questions about. It was fun to see it come together and Gabby has a great interest in the death positive movement, making the game a really progressive example of the day-to-day experiences of a funeral director.
I review games as often as I play them (not at all!) so I appreciated A Mortician's Tale for being simplistic in its game theory and using careful pacing to walk me through each scene. The muted purples and pinks combined with a dreamy soundtrack create a calming atmosphere that still looks vibrant and feels just a touch lonely as well, all of which is to say it’s similar to the way planning a funeral feels to the uninitiated.
You character is a female mortician (Charlie), fresh out of mortuary school who gets a job with the female-owned firm Rose and Daughters Funeral Home. Charlie's daily email is where you find out what your next funeral task will be, which requires you to prepare a body for an embalming, cremation, or burial while also learning about industry topics like corporate vs. independent funeral homes, indigent burials and green funerals. It aims for education and sparks thought-provoking conversation, as evidenced between my partner and I when I got to scenes like the cremation (“you can be cremated with your clothes on?”)
True to life, the story is largely told through email and the overheard conversations at the funerals. Charlie’s inbox is where we find out information about the company (they get bought out by corporate), her personal life (she’s queer friendly) and the larger industry issues happening (the alternative death movement is gaining speed). Everything feels very timely about the game, which is a refreshing change if you struggle (like me) to find cultural examples of funeral service that does not uphold antiquated stereotypes, ie. old white men in suits.
There is an impressive amount of death industry information packed into this fairly short game which took me about an hour to complete, even with my exceptional embalming tools knowledge. I was charmed by the details in the email exchanges that referred to current industry trends like mushroom burial suits and eco pods and felt surprisingly moved at many of the mourners observations at the funerals. When Rose and Daughters has to sell out to a corporation to stay in business, we learn it via a remorseful email from the owner, a very real experience that is now all too common.
At the risk of revealing too much about my current emotional state, the hopeful ending of the game nearly made me cry. That I didn’t openly weep was only because I was pretty cried out for the weekend. I wrote early in the game's development that I expected it would be the only place people could see the inside of an embalming room, not realizing that it might also be the place where they could see green burial as well. It was incredibly satisfying to see my dream for the future of the funeral industry rendered with as much heart as it was in A Mortician's Tale. It forgoes the standard 'win' in favor of something much more rewarding: showing death
work centered on shared grief and healing, empowerment and inclusiveness.