Death is a constant part of our lives. Everywhere we look, there is death waiting to appear. Either we see it on the news or through fictional worlds, yet talking about death is still quite taboo or uncomfortable. Funerals is the epitome of this. Grieving is hard. Accepting death in our lives is hard. Sometimes overwhelming. So a game that focuses on funerals might seem a bit too… macabre for some people. Surprisingly though, A Mortician’s Tale becomes a heartfelt homage to the world of funerals and the death that surrounds it.
Taking the role of a mortician nicknamed Charlie who recently accepted a position in a mom and pop funeral home, the player must prepare the bodies for the funerals and attend said funerals. Gameplay wise, the game is very simple. The preparing of the bodies involves a small click and drag section where the player uses tools to prepare the body through either embalming or cremation. This part of the game is equivalent to a simple flash game. There is no game over screen and the player is guided constantly by instructions so its not a challenge. After preparing the bodies, the player attends the funeral of the deceased in order to pay respect to the dead. Charlie will be controlled in this sections that end after interacting with the casket. That’s pretty much it when it comes to gameplay. Add in the fact that the game is very short, it might seem as a mediocre game yet there is something that the game absolutely nails. Where the game shines is the optional world building through the use of emails and overhearing conversations in the funerals.
Before preparing the bodies for the funerals, Charlie will read the instructions for the preparation on her computer. She will also receive emails from friends and co-workers that are not necessary to read but ignoring them is a disservice to the game. These emails help to humanize Charlie and builds the world of the game in a simple, minimalistic way. From her best friend who also works at a business involving death, to the owner of the funeral home, each character feels real. As Charlie doesn’t speak in the game, the emails are the way where we see her character development through the years at the funeral home. As you may have noticed, I’m trying to avoid spoilers by being vague. Since this is a narrative-driven game, I don’t want to ruin the experience of playing through the story. The other story section where the world is fleshed out is in the actual funerals.
After the preparation of the body, Charlie attends the funerals where you can interact with the people in the funeral. The actual interaction is Charlie overhearing conversations from the attendees at the funeral. The conversations revolve around mostly on how people react to death. Some are distraught and heartbroken over the death. Others see it as a necessary part of life. A couple of the funerals broke my heart for different reasons that I won’t go into detail . This is where the game showcases our relationship with death in a very real way. This isn’t Call of Duty where player mows down soldier after soldier without thinking about the deaths on-screen. By setting the game in a funeral home, death becomes more personal. Something that truly has meaning. At this point, I should mention that the game was inspired by the death acceptance organization The Order of the Good Death. The organization strives to embrace human mortality and the discussion of death without it being taboo. This is the game’s primary message: the accepting of death in our lives. I believe that the game transmits this very well through the story and characters.
The game might not be for everyone because of its representation of death in such a personal way but I would argue that it is for that reason that the game excels. While the game is at times unsettling with its personal portrayal of death, its earnest depiction of death and its effect on people should not be ignored even if its uncomfortable for some people. This game gets a recommendation from me.