When I decided I wanted to work in healthcare, I was determined to do everything in my power to keep people off of the mortician’s table. Nursing, and healthcare in general, have moved towards a more holistic approach to death within the last few decades, with more open dialog about patients’ quality of life, palliative care, and hospice. We now work to give people good lives and good deaths.
Giving the bodies of the deceased good, respectful memorials is the goal of Charlie, the newly-minted mortician in A Mortician’s Tale from Laundry Bear Games. Charlie begins her career with a small funeral home. She takes the player through the steps of preparing the bodies of the deceased for their funerals and then attends each one. It is optional to speak to the other guests at the funeral—many of them make awkward small talk, and a few seem to be trying to grieve and say their goodbyes. The only required action is to stop at the casket or urn and bow your head in respect before leaving. This is a beautifully subtle way to reinforce that this process, for morticians, is about respecting the deceased.
At one point, Charlie is asked to prepare the body of a person who died by suicide. The characters in the game seem to think that Charlie would have an issue with the manner of his death, and the player can choose whether or not to proceed with the preparation and funeral. I was more concerned that the family was ignoring the wishes of the deceased. He had a written will asking for one type of funeral, but as he had no designated power of attorney, the family was legally able to ignore that request. At another point, Charlie prepares the body of a man who was probably homeless and found deceased. His body had been unclaimed by family or friends, and the city was responsible for what happens to his body after death. After his cremation, the urn is placed in the funeral parlor, and Charlie is the lone attendant at his funeral. She gives him the same respect she does to every other body she prepares.
Mortician’s Tale also highlights the difference between smaller, family-owned and operated funeral parlors and corporate operations. About halfway through the game, the funeral home that employs Charlie is sold to one of these larger outfits, and strict changes are handed down from the new management. The most unsettling of these is the practice of “upselling,” trying to get families to spend as much money as possible for the preparation of the body and funeral by essentially guilting them into buying “the very best” for the deceased. Charlie and other employees are unhappy with the new practices and try to advocate for more green and economical options as more responsible and even “morally correct.”This is a beautifully subtle way to reinforce that this process, for morticians, is about respecting the deceased.
While predatory practices and economic and environmental costs are important to highlight in an educational game, this is where I have mixed feelings. If you’re shopping for a funeral, you’ll find upselling in funeral homes of any size. And if your family member is alive and tells you that they want to be embalmed, have an open-casket funeral, and be buried in a full plot with a vault, that’s a conversation you should have with them. The game seems to take the attitude that because traditional Western funeral practices are expensive and bad for the environment, we should abandon them altogether. Most of the older generations in my family want the full Western open-casket funeral with all the trimmings. For them, seeing the body and getting to say goodbye face to face, is part of the grieving process. I’ve had this conversation with people in my family, some of them several times, and this is what they want. Doing something else with their body, even if it’s what I would want to be done with mine, would be disrespectful to their memory.
At its heart, A Mortician’s Tale seeks to educate people about the options for and realities of their care after death. If nothing else, the game can give you a reason to open conversations that might otherwise be awkward or scary, but that are important to have with your loved ones. And hopefully, it will give you some insight into how you want to be memorialized when you leave your body behind.