The life of a mortician is generally shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. It’s not a profession most would choose as the first choice on their list of career aspirations, but it is a fascinating one. If you’ve ever stumbled across the lovely Caitlin Doughty on Youtube, you’ve probably experienced her incredibly informative series on her life as a mortician. Caitlin is also a founding member of The Order of the Good Death, and is one of the primary inspirations behind Laundry Bear’s A Mortician’s Tale.
A Mortician’s Tale is a gentle, “death-positive“, story-driven game that focuses on the life of a new graduate, Charlie, and how she goes about handling her duties as a mortician at the Rose and Daughters funeral home.
Charlie seems to be a very caring individual and takes her career as a mortician pretty seriously. She’s passionate about her work and frequently looks to increase the quality of life at the funeral home. She fits in perfectly at Rose and Daughters, in a healthy environment with positive coworkers that genuinely care about their customers and helping the families heal during their time of need.
Each day begins anew in the lab, with multiple emails you can pour over before you begin your work. A small cup of coffee sits beside your computer, a strange, yet comforting, sense of normalcy amongst the pastel lab equipment. Your best friend sends you emails pretty routinely, from her job at a pathology museum and enthuses about all of your same death-positive interests. She even goes so far as to sign you up for a “Funerals Monthly” newsletter that offers some enlightening bits of information about the funeral industry. You definitely want to take your time and read through all of these, as your emails are the driving narrative force of A Mortician’s Tale. After accepting your newest task for the day, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.
There are two types of processes that you can perform in the lab: embalming or cremation. A Mortician’s Tale sets you up with a small tutorial for each body that comes through, so you always know which tools you need for which process. Don’t worry, there’s no way to really fail a job. Seeing a body, even an illustrated one with a lilac tint is a little shocking at first. There’s just something so strange about knowing the history of the glazed eyes looking back at you, that it took a moment for me to settle in. You will need to take the sponges to wash the body down, massage the limbs to counter rigor mortis, and perform a number of surgical activities to prepare the body for a funeral presentation.
Cremation requires much less effort. Like the game infers, I wasn’t aware of what the cremation process actually entailed. I guess some part of me just thought body + fire = ash. But, it just so happens that the bones are manually ground down into ash after the body has been burned. Afterward, you place the jewelry and other metal belongings that were removed from the body in the vase with an identification tag. That’s another facet of the cremation I hadn’t given much thought to-identification of the bodies. After the bodies are turned into ash, there is no way to tell who the remains belong to, so a tag is placed in the vase for future identification.
When the bodies have been taken care of, Charlie dresses in a lovely Wednesday Addam-esque black dress and heads to the funeral home to pay her respects to the family. While you’re there, you can speak with each of the relatives and friends to learn their thoughts about the deceased. Some conversations are disheartening, and some funerals don’t have anyone in attendance at all. It’s these intimate moments that really nail the reality of your situation and give you a swift punch to the gut. Is this how you would want people to remember you? Is that the legacy you would want to leave behind?
A Mortician’s Tale claims to have taken a “death positive” approach, and the ending provides you with that and much more. Throughout your interactions with your colleagues and close friends, you’ll learn more about the actual daily lives of morticians (sans a bit of gore) with an empowering story that leaves you feeling satisfied. Though we don’t get too close to Charlie, you feel hopeful with the conclusion to her story and optimistic about the future of the funeral industry.
Having faced the death of close family and friends more times than I’m comfortable recounting, I was really surprised at how much I don’t know about what goes on in the daily lives of the people who take care of our loved ones when they pass on. A Mortician’s Tale is a gentle reminder of our mortality and a quiet reassurance that it doesn’t have to be viewed negatively. Through informative newsletters woven in with the game’s narrative, and the passionate dream of a young woman, we find that there is peace and joy to be found in the arms of family, green alternatives, and the celebration of our passing.
If you’d like to experience A Mortician’s Tale for yourself, you can find it on Steam, Humble, and itch.io for around ~$10 USD.