A Mortician’s Tale
Developer: Laundry Bear
Platforms: PC, Mac
A review by Ryan M. Holt
Gaming is truly magical for the simple fact that it allows players to use technology to interact with the world in a unique way. Sometimes that means collecting stars throughout a castle, or stopping an alien force from activating a super weapon. A Mortician’s Tale challenges the gaming status quo with a smart narrative and uncomfortable subject matter, and that is what art is supposed to do. It is supposed to push us beyond ourselves.
From a purely capital G-gaming standpoint, A Mortician’s Tale is a point-and-click adventure through the eyes of Charlie, a mortician. The game has you prepare bodies for both burials and cremations in a game that reminds me of the earlier versions of Trauma Center. Instead of life saving procedures though, you are preparing bodies for a wake.
The gameplay is fine, not really ground breaking, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t really engaging. I am lucky (or dumb) enough to have a computer with a touch screen, and having to prepare these bodies by using my hands felt oddly calming. I really do wish that this game was available for tablet and mobile platforms, although I don’t know if it could survive the free-to-play app ecosystem with a price tag of $14.99. If you have the ability to play this game with a touch screen though, you absolutely need to.
Where A Mortician’s Tale soars above all other games is how it engages the player through the narrative. Before you prepare each body you have to comb through emails from your boss, your co-workers, and one of your close friends. This is where the game challenges you and your feelings on death.
Without getting too morbid, I have always had an arms length fear about death. What happens when I am gone? What happens after? Will I remember my life? Instead of asking players to face these fears, A Mortician’s Tale takes a pro-death approach. One of the email chains Charlie is subscribed to is a pro-death newsletter, that offers all sorts of insight into real questions and situations that people dealing with death go through. Do you honor the wishes of a minor who committed suicide, or do you follow the law that says his parents have final say about the deceased teen who took their life? How do you handle LGBTQ+ corpses for burial?
All of these questions scare the absolute crap out of me, but A Mortician’s Tale forced me to deal with these deaths as if they were a close family member of mine. A poignant wake you have to prepare for late in the narrative is sobering and brought tears to my eye. I know these are real world situations that hundreds of people deal with on a daily basis.
The one thing I disliked about A Mortician’s Tale was the length. I felt that it was too short to really get at the meat of the taboo issues surrounding death, and it ends on a predictable note with very little pay off. I really wish there was at least one wake to prepare for post-credits, if only to drive the pro-death message home further. On the flip side of that coin though, if it was longer, I am not sure it would have had the impact on me that it did.
Thanks to a slew of factors, like a robust indie scene on PC and wide acceptance of titles that challenge the preconceptions of what a game can be, A Mortician’s Tale is going to hit a lot of people right in the gut. I certainty didn’t expect it to effect me and my outlook on death the way it did. I am not saying that I am ready to embrace death with open arms, I still have a lot of life to live, but I feel oddly at peace with it now.
Play it! A Mortician’s Tale challenges what a game can be in the best of ways, and forces its players to engage with conversations most people never consider. The narrative carries the game from start to finish, and it leaves a lasting impact that most game developers only dream of. If you have the means to play it, please do. It is an experience unlike any other. A Mortician’s Tale is available on Steam, Humble Bundle and Itch.io.
Review copy of A Mortician’s Tale was provided by Laundry Bear.