TITLE: A Mortician’s Tale
DEVELOPER: Laundry Bear Games
PUBLISHER: Laundry Bear Games
RELEASED: October 2017
GENRE: Casual Indie
CONSOLE: PC (Steam)
KEY INFO: Casual games, single-player, narrative-driven, art aesthetics, short games, emotional, educational
CONTENT WARNINGS: Death, Dead Bodies, Grieving Families
Note: This review does not contain any images of dead bodies but does discuss the act of preparing dead bodies (though does not go into any detail about this)
Synopsis: A Mortician’s Tale is a narrative-driven death positive video game where you play as a mortician tasked with running a funeral home—preparing the bodies of the deceased (via embalming or cremation), attending their funerals and listening to their loved ones’ stories, and running the business.
A Mortician’s Tale was everything that I wanted it to be; an aesthetically pleasing little game that was empowering yet sensitive towards death yet also pleasantly surprising with its diverse characters. Possibly one of the only drawbacks of the game is that is disappointingly short, taking only 0.9 hours to completely even when going through the game slowly, and this is one of the only reasons I couldn’t quite give it 5 stars. Overall though, A Mortician’s Tale is a brilliant little game that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the funeral industry, death practices, and narrative-driven games.
I have harbored a slightly odd and macabre relationship with death ever since I was a child, when I could be spotted running around with my British History Encylopedia tome which I kept handy to educate others about Black Death, and this fascination is something that has stayed with me into adulthood. Death is a difficult and often very taboo topic; most people get uncomfortable when you talk about it and for Western cultures, it’s an unpleasant fact about human nature that should be dealt with quickly and efficiently before being brushed back under the carpet. So, if you’re someone like me who has an interest in death and death practices and wants to talk more about those, you’re often out of luck. Thankfully last year I discovered Caitlin Doughty’s From Here to Eternity: Travelling the World to Find the Good Death and with it The Order of the Good Death. Set up by Doughty, The Order of the Good Death is a group which centers death positivity and which has been making death positive waves worldwide. A Mortician’s Tale is one of the things which has arisen out of those waves to bring a message about death in a beautifully wrapped, non-threatening package in the form of a little video game.
Playing as Charlie, a cool-ass mortician with tattoos and an equally cool girlfriend, you go on a short journey which looks at the funeral industry. From preparing a body for cremation or burial to frequently checking your emails to keep up with your death positive subscription and checking on your guests post-funeral to offer your condolences, A Mortician’s Tale demystifies some of the practices around death and gives players an insight into a largely hidden world. Although it’s a short game with a fairly simplistic narrative, it gives players an opportunity to experience some of the day-to-day tasks expected of a mortician as well as some of the differences between different types of funeral homes including family-owned, corporate-owned and personally-owned (although the game clearly has a message that it wants to deliver to you!) from the safety of their own home, far from the reality of actual dead bodies.
Although each day is majoratively the same and there is no deviation from the pre-set daily tasks or narrative, the game never once felt repetitive to me. Whether it was my first time preparing a body or my 5th time preparing one, I found myself actively going through the motions rather than doing so to end the game. Each (virtual) body was prepared with care, each funeral attended to with the grieving family in mind even though such actions had no impact on the game itself. I found myself willingly progressing through the game slowly, finding solace in each activity and a sense of complete calm whilst doing so. In many ways, I found the game to be therapeutic and calming although this may not be the case for other players. There were so many death positive elements of the game and playing through the game, I also felt major Order of the Good Death vibes and was happy to see both The Order and Doughty thanked in the acknowledgments.
In addition to the narrative, the beautiful color palette, and the lovely music, I was also impressed with the amount of thought and detail that had gone into the educational subscription email Charlie received each morning. Reading through it is, of course, optional but as someone with an interest in this area I read through each and every email Charlie received. So imagine my surprise and pleasure when I stumbled upon an email a few days in which was dedicated to discussing how to deliver LGBTQ+ funerals respectfully and sensitively. This is one of my main interests so I was super stoked to see it included and even more so to see its focus on funerals for trans people. It’s just one of the many, many reasons why A Mortician’s Tale is so outstanding.
Whilst the game was almost overwhelmingly amazing in every way, there was just one or two little things for me that held me back from giving this a glowing 5-star rating. As mentioned, the game is short. Very, very short. Even if you try to speak to every person and read every single email in-depth it still didn’t last more than an hour. The game mechanisms were also simple and basic with instructions provided all the way along even when you had prepared a body in the same way multiple times. It would have been nice to have been able to get to a point where I could prepare bodies without the tutorial feeling prompts every time and to feel like Charlie and I were ready to do it on our own. Lastly, it would have been fantastic to have had actual dialogue options with funeral home customers to flesh out relationships with them and feel as though you, and Charlie, were part of the process more as there were no options to interact with them beyond their one-sentence response.
As a result of these few little things, A Mortician’s Tale felt a little more like an introduction to a game rather than a fully fleshed game within its own right. However, that being said, I still LOVED this game. I just wanted more of it! As it stands though, it’s a fantastic introduction to the funeral industry and death positivity in a short, engaging, and non-threatening format which is perfect for those wanting to learn more or for those who love death. A Mortician’s Tale is a game that will stick with me for a long time and has made me very excited to see what Laundry Bear Games develop in the future.