Zach and I tried playing this game for our comedy let’s play channel Bingie Gingies. It looked fun and goth and beautiful and introspective, so I was intrigued; and, because we’re trying everything at least once, I got to play it. Immediately I knew it was a bad idea for the channel. There was a lot of reading and our normal up-beat personalities started to drag as we tried to get a feel for the game. The game was warning us from the very beginning when it said “headphones recommended”. We disregarded and charged on.
Upon launching in, we were already skimming text and trying to get to gameplay. But that’s not at all what this game was. We tried to say “Sorry, this isn’t a game for joking about, but that’s our schtick”, but even we couldn’t find a way to twist this into humor. This game isn’t for that. And if that’s what you want from me, then close this now. We tried forging ahead and it made me feel squeamish. It wasn’t right and the game was putting my teeth on edge. We managed 20 minutes of gameplay and called it quits, opting to put the game down and relenting that maybe it would be a better solo experience. So, later that day I snuck back upstairs to play it myself.
Trying it again, but this time doing it right
I nestled myself into the recording room, lights off and blinds drawn, a fan going so I was slightly chilly, and put on my headphones. The music was haunting and light and lilting. Beautiful. It set the mood for what would be a somber experience. Instead of the frantic skimming I did previously with Zach, I read every word and got to know the story. In an hour I had a full experience that brought out a range of emotions and it was a complete, worthwhile experience.
I want to address the emails your character receives. This is the real meat of the game. If you don’t read them and just handle the bodies it’s going to be a really, really boring game. You’ll begin to know exactly what to do with the bodies and perform rote gestures, not even reading the guidance text anymore. But the emails tell everything you need to know and the bits of gameplay in between really punctuate and give you time to think about it.
One of the monthly emails always comes from a newsletter and it’s filled with all sorts of information. Oh, did I forget to mention? This game is secretly educational and wholesome. I learned that there are issues with trans and LGBTQ+ individuals trying to get buried. If they don’t have a legal will setup, their family can have them dressed and groomed as a gender that is not theirs, or buried under a name the individual would not have preferred. Some states take baby steps into protecting people even in death, but it’s something I hadn’t even thought of. I never really thought of that privilege that I have. I learned a lot of other things, but that’s one of the things that has been rattling in my brain since I played Mortician’s Tale.
The other letters come from the people around you. There’s a monthly letter from your best friend from college. She is absolutely charming and wonderful and I wish I had her in my life. You get the story of your best friend who works at a museum in Paris working with ancient dead bodies. A narrative unfolds through her letters telling of how hard it is working in the death industry and how it freaks people out. That it’s not “normal”, to the point that they have their own dating site to find other people that work in the industry. Again, not a faux pas I had ever thought of. I wouldn’t mind a goth mortician girlfriend.
Finally you get emails from work. The main narrative of the game follows a small family-owned funeral home that wants to provide a family experience for grieving families. However, it’s hard to keep those running and keep costs down, so they end up selling out to a national corporation. You have to watch as the funeral home you work for turns to the “dark side” of death, as it were. The company shoots prices sky-high and they no longer focus on respecting the dead and the grieving families–it’s all about the money.
So through this experience, our coworker is sick of this and ends up quitting. He was our rock through our time at this company, always driving bodies and telling us jokes and giving us tips. We have a LOT of beers after work to deal with the stress of the new company takeover. He gets a happy ending! That brought me a lot of joy.
But we also get a happy ending. In the end, our protagonist uses everything we’ve learned about respect, about green burials, about home burials and involving the families in the burial process to help with the grieving process–we use all of this to start our own funeral home. And I think it’s really beautiful because it’s like the American Dream but in a taboo form. Nobody likes to talk about death or what happens to our bodies when we die. It’s hard and messy and scary. There were a lot of moments I thought I was going to cry, but I kept going because it felt like a natural process with this game. And the payoff was really beautiful.
The credit roll felt like I had spent hours with this game even though it was a single hour. I felt so emotionally invested I was surprised how little time had passed. The music was beautiful and swelled into some amazing vocals. I’m really glad I took the time to play this alone, and I would absolutely recommend anyone else do it. It talks about death in a really natural and healthy way. It discusses healing and touches on LGBTQ+ experiences, which I always love.
This game receives mixed reviews on Steam and I think it’s a mix between how short it is (which means it’s harder to get in-depth with the conversation) and the price tag ($10 for an hour experience). I got this game really cheap since it was part of a bundle. So for that I think this was well worth my time. If $10 sounds like a lot to you, which I honestly understand, then wait for it to go on sale. Find it in an indie bundle. But if you get the opportunity I would definitely recommend spending an hour on this. It’s beautiful and thoughtful and I think it’s going to stick with me.