Death Mechanics in Games

#327: A cancelled TAGGS presentation has risen from the grave into a podcast! Marc, Lara, and Link are joined by special guest Mary Devorak to talk about how games utilize death mechanics and how we can use them to delve deeper into our understanding of death, dying, and grief.


Link Keller 0:11
Welcome to GT radio on the Geek Therapy network, where we believe that the best way to understand yourself and others is through the media you care about. I am link, and I am joined by my co host, Lara and Marc, and our very special guest, Mary. This week, we are going to be doing an extra special episode. We recently had the second annual TAGGS summit TAGGsummit, the summit

Lara Taylor 0:46

Marc Cuiriz 0:47
the summit that was TAGGS

Link Keller 0:53
therapeutic applied geek and gaming summit online conference which you can buy media passes to catch the first one from 2021. And soon the recordings from the second taggs will be up and you can even buy your passes for tags 2023 If you’re feeling very proactive. But yeah, Mary and I were going to present at taggs and through a series of unfortunate events did not. And so we were like you know what it’s time to be pirates and take over GT radio, and do what we want to do, which is talk about Death mechanics in games. And that’s video games and board games and TTRPGs, because all the games are delicious. And death is everywhere. All the time.

Lara Taylor 1:51
Marc and I are here just to look pretty, even though you can’t see us.

Link Keller 1:57
I hope that you will join in.

Lara Taylor 1:59
Of course, of course,

Link Keller 2:00
you have insightful things to say. But yeah, that’s that’s basically what we’re gonna do tonight. I guess to start us off. I love talking about death. I’ve talked about death on this podcast several times, and in real life incessantly. And I think it’s really important that we talk about I come from the death positive backgrounds. For those of you who don’t know, that was started by Caitlin Doughty, who is a mortician and YouTube person. YouTuber now.

Link Keller 2:45

Link Keller 2:46
Yes. Her her YouTube channel is Ask A Mortician, highly recommend there’s lots of very cool videos, informative stuff, funny jokes. But yes, basically, the idea being in death positivity is that like sex positivity, this is a part of life that has a lot of stigma attached to it. And we tend to avoid talking about it, when we really should be talking about it. Because it’s natural. It’s normal. It’s going to happen to you to you, to you. So I love getting the opportunity to talk about stuff like this. Mary, would you like to give a little bit of your death background?

Mary Devorak 3:35
Yes, well, first of all, every time I’ve tried to do this presentation, talk thing. Life has tried to take me out. But not this time. We’re here now. It’s Third time’s the charm apparently

Lara Taylor 3:50
fighting against death right there.

Mary Devorak 3:52
That’s right. Yes. Yeah. Now it’s just trying to take my wife out. So okay, who am I? I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. And so I worked a lot with grief and queer community, and all sorts of everything. I am also a death doula. Well, I’m trained as a death doula. And a lot of people aren’t quite familiar with that term yet. It’s very much a part of the death positivity movement, and it’s getting more popular. But basically, death doulas just as birth doulas help life come into the world. We help guide life into their next world. It’s basically like, like I help people with their last wishes and arranging everything and all sorts of things that we never even think about when we’re dying, or having a loved one who is dying. And I often talk about like myself as a dying person, because I was born with a terminal illness. And it’s not terminal anymore. It’s chronic, and I’m alive. And I will not be someday just this all of us will not be. And the cool part in both of the jobs that I do, I also get to use games. And when I’m more on a death role I do some like, what I call grief gaming. And yeah, so we get to talk more about that today.

Link Keller 5:52
Yes, I am very excited. I am coming more from the video games side of things. That’s what I have more familiarity with. But we did also do some research on some TT RPGs, and stuff like that, that will we will touch on. Where do you want to? Where do you where do you guys want to start?

Link Keller 6:21
I guess I guess we can start with defining what I mean by death mechanics in games. Basically, mechanics are the ways that players interact with the game. That is like the rules, obviously, the most base level there is it is the rules. It is also the way that players understand the rules. So it’s a little bit more gray area around there. It can also include like when we’re talking about TTRPG is you can have homebrew where you’re making up your own set of constraints and goals and stuff. And so basically, it’s the ways that we engage with the game and more specifically, the way that death is a part of that engagement with the game. In most games, death is just a fail state, it just means you have lost. Sometimes in video games, it’s often like you reload so you get another chance. Older video games used lives as a way to have a failure states in early videogame history. It was used death was used both as a shorthand for like to get people to understand is like this is a you lost like you died. But also, arcade games are about making money. So the more that you die, the more that you put more coins in to keep playing. And that very much popularized the the verbiage of using death and dying in games even though they weren’t realistic examples of death and dying. in TTRPGs that’s also still very common board games like death is just it’s a fail state. But there are lots of examples. And there are more every year which I love of games that are engaging with the idea of death and dying in more interesting ways more realistic ways. Think I will start with a very on the nose example. And that is a morticians tale which is a video game that came out in I want to say 2017 by laundry bear games. It is a game that is loosely based off of Caitlin Doughty’s first book, and which is autobiographical. So it’s really about her life. It’s you play as Charlie, who is a young mortician starting at a mortuary. And in the game, what you are doing it like the mechanics of the game is you move around in a room and you engage with a computer where you get to read some emails. And then you engage with the body where you prepare it for a funeral, either through embalming or cremation. And then after finishing that part, you go into the funeral home, presentation room, the funeral room, and you get to listen to the family talk and it shows a bunch of different ways that people engage with grief. It shows people you know crying it shows people who are like worried about what’s gonna happen next because you know, you don’t have a will from that person. And so whoever the next of kin is has to just sort of guess what what that person the decedent would have wanted. It shows people who are laughing and joking, it shows people who are like, Man, I’m just like really hungry, can we can we get some fast food after this. And I think that that’s like such a cool game because obviously, it shows all these different types of grief experiences, which I think is really important. It talks about more of the industry side, wherein a lot of private family owned funeral homes, get bought out by big industry corporations, who keep the name and everything the same so that you still you think it’s a small little private thing, but it’s, it’s a mega Corp. But most importantly, in the game, when you are performing the embalming and the cremation, like, you actually get to see the step by step process of what that looks like. Now, the graphics of the game are pastel purples, and blues. And it’s not super realistic. But the steps of the process are realistic, which I think is so important because it gives people an opportunity to actually learn about this stuff. Because a lot of times, we don’t feel comfortable asking, or we don’t have a person to ask. And it can be in the moment of actually encountering that in your own real life. Like you don’t want to ask question like, hey, what did you do with that corpse? Like that’s, that’s grandma? Can you not? can you not ask that right now? Shut up. But yeah, I think this game is a great intro into learning about that stuff.

Lara Taylor 11:28
And that gives people like, the way the graphics are in the game, it gives people it’s an accessibility point where people who are gonna get grossed out, don’t have to be as grossed out and can ask those questions. It’s not CSI, like level realism or whatever, some people get grossed out by that. So that’s pretty cool.

Link Keller 11:51
It is.

Mary Devorak 11:52
That’s exactly what I was thinking. on that. It’s, it’s so much more accessible to everyone because they don’t have to worry about too much. They don’t want to see

Lara Taylor 12:04

Mary Devorak 12:11
This is a super great game, I actually get like, a lot of people who ask about what happens or just have no idea about anything at all about the process, and then, you know, someone in the family has died. And I do my best to give them a space to talk about, you know, and explore any of those questions that you wouldn’t usually ask in front of most people, like, Oh, what happened to that corpse? What’s going to happen? And this provides like, a different format, which I really love. And it allows a little bit of separation because it’s a cartoony type of feel. So we can still go through it together, or they can even just do it on their own and talk to me about it. And they get the education and the knowledge that they want. And for some people that helps them move forward and move through that very difficult time.

Link Keller 13:24
Yes. It’s reminds me of immediately swerving out of games, The Haunting of Hill House in one of the early episodes of that season. And I’m forgetting the character’s name, but she is a funeral director mortician and she talks through the process of preparing a body for a showing and I thought that that was done well in that they showed that it is a process somebody somebody is doing that job of dressing up the body and preparing it and making it look not alive but more lifelike. By but it was also like, you know, obviously not a real corpse on the table in that TV show, but it was a little bit more intense because it was more realistic looking. And I think that that’s one of the ways that a morticians Tale really is very powerful is that it is it is soft and cartoony and that does like gives the space for us to engage with it without it being scary. Haunting of Hill House is a horror show so it likes to be scary

Lara Taylor 14:44
it scared the crap outta me. Yeah.

Mary Devorak 14:46
That explains why i didn’t see it

Marc Cuiriz 14:48
Yes, yes, spooky show’s not for me.

Lara Taylor 14:54
Link will eat all the spooky shows up.

Link Keller 14:58
yumyumyum delicious

Lara Taylor 14:58
me too

Link Keller 15:02
Okay, do we want to talk about a TTRPG? Example?

Mary Devorak 15:08
Yeah, we definitely can. So what is the best one? Well, it kind of makes a little bit of sense to talk about Rest in pieces. So this is an interesting game, it was very recently released, like around 2021. And it it’s a type of game where you have a Jenga tower. And it’s like a card base game as well. And basically, you’re death’s, roommates. And so the Grim Reaper is your roommate. And it goes through like bad days, and difficult friendships. And so it allows me a lot to talk about, like, how would you have this hard conversation? In a way that’s not as directly talking about death itself, it’s like, taking it as a theme. And then talking about some other things in different ways. One of the quotes on the on the manual says, Death is all about happy endings. And they have some like really cool little cards, I feel like it was done so creatively, they have a card that represents death, which was the Grim Reaper, and it describes the Grim Reaper as a millennial obsessive and possessive. Like, I mean, I fear of death is coming. forea Sorry, but in this game, death is good, getcha. Yeah, there’s a lot of different examples of the different types of cards. But basically, it uses humor. And you can process a lot of different types of themes with this particular game. Friendships grief, just living with someone I’m thinking of, maybe using this for a transitional age use, like we’re gonna move in with roommates. Not really related to death. But I think it’s cool that it’s not all related. And it also involves the narrator, they call, they call that the GM, the narrator in this one. And the narrator puts pressure on the players to make their days as hard as they can be. And I think that’s a great reflection of what it’s like to go through death, dying and grieving. It often feels like life is and death are just giving us the hardest things that could could we could possibly imagine. And sometimes we don’t know how we’re gonna make it through. And we do. So.

Link Keller 18:25
I think having the aspect of the Jenga tower is really fun, fun and flirty. I think it’s great, because anybody who’s played Jenga before, like, you know, at some point, that tower is coming down.

Lara Taylor 18:44
There’s some anxiety there. Yeah, we’re gonna fall Yeah,

Link Keller 18:47
there is will I cause it? Will it be my fault? Will I just have to sit there and witness it happened before me? Gosh, that sounds very similar to something else. Death dying. That’s what it’s like. You know, like you just living life is you’re gonna keep pulling those pieces out of the tower, and eventually it will topple. I think that that is such a fun way to sort of analogize metaphoricalize, death and dying in a game mechanic is incorporating this game that a lot of people are very familiar with. And just adding in the extra comedy layers of the cards and everything. Death is a roommate, I think is very funny to me.

Lara Taylor 19:37
Yeah, the Jenga tower is a mechanic and a lot of like solo RPGs to help you kind of figure out when your fail state is or when the game is going to end. It’s not always a fail state. But yeah, good way to know when things are going to.

Mary Devorak 19:56

Marc Cuiriz 19:59
I definitely have to say That’s the first time I’ve ever heard Jenga being utilized in a way to think of death. And honestly, I’m here for it. That’s something that’s actually something really cool. I never really thought about it in that, in that way of like, you know, death is one of the things where it’s going to come and like, when you’re dealing when you’re living with life, like you’re living life with people like, especially like in like partnerships and relationships and stuff, like there are people that are just constantly just gonna be pulling out those pieces until one day. It’s gonna topple either somebody accidentally bumps the table, or, you know, you just pull that one piece. I’ll really depends.

Lara Taylor 20:37
Or you get angry and table flip it

Link Keller 20:41
I was just thinking that I was like, I’m not gonna say it. Thank you. Thank you, Lara.

Mary Devorak 20:47
And what a great reflection on like, how we could live choose to live our lives and the choices that we have in life. If there is a person who just takes and takes all those pieces? Do we, you know, do we want them present? And, like in those ways? And do we want to give them opportunities to continue to take more pieces? Or do we have a choice to find? People who maybe will help build us up?

Lara Taylor 21:19
Yeah, we just got real deep on the Jenga game. I love it.

Link Keller 21:23
mmm thats geek therapy

Lara Taylor 21:25
I thought of it as like it. I mean, I use a comparison for anxiety all the time, because there is that anxiety of what’s going to happen. I know what’s going to happen. But is it going to be me? When is it going to happen? The unknown? And what is one of the things that causes the most anxiety for people? death.

Link Keller 21:44
Yes, yes.

Lara Taylor 21:48

Link Keller 21:49

Lara Taylor 21:51
Simple game, just some bricks. But are they really just some bricks?

Marc Cuiriz 21:57
you put the meaning to them

Mary Devorak 22:00
now who’s a therapist

Link Keller 22:06
okay, I’m gonna take us into another video game example, is game called Spiritfarer by thunder Lotus games that came out in 2020. I played the first couple of hours on Xbox Game Pass, which I don’t have access to anymore. But loved it. It’s so cute. You play as Stella, who has become the new ferry master of the dead that she has replaced. Charon, I think it’s pronounced Charon. And you also have a little pet kitty who runs around with you which I love. But you are building your boat up, you add in gardens and sleeping spaces and a little kitchen and you collect friends who are dead and you are helping to prepare them to go through the big circle gate into the unknown. And you help them sort of process their lives and prepare them for whatever is next. And that is not you doing something to them. That is you helping them come to understand things and to feel fulfilled in their being ready. Whatever that means to the individual. One of my favorite things in the game is that there is a hugging mechanic and I love being able to hug the creatures. It makes me feel so good. It’s so sweet. It has like what’s the word I’m looking for? Like farming mechanics and collecting resources to buy things or to make things which you know, if you like games like Stardew Valley, it is very much in line with that but it is focused on this idea of being ready to move on and you as the player as Stella learning to let go because it is your your choice to take them back to the gates for them to go through the gate. Like they say Okay, I’m ready. And you still have to choose to drive your little boat back to that part of map and be like alright, I’m ready to let you go after I hug you like six more times. But I think it is it is a really beautiful game. And I love that it it really focuses on that aspect of both the internal experience of preparing for your own death but also the experience of preparing to say goodbye to people you care about, especially after you have have invested a bunch of resources and time game mechanic wise, but also, reflection on real life. If you expend your limited lifetime, building up a relationship with somebody knowing that at some point, either you have to say goodbye to them, or they’re gonna have to say goodbye to you, and processing that and coming to terms with it in a way that fills you. And makes you feel like it’s worth it to be alive and make connections with people.

Lara Taylor 25:38
that sounds pretty magic right there.

Link Keller 25:40
I mean, you know, it’s, it’s pretty easy to get nihilistic about things. Be like, wow, that sounds awful, saying goodbye to people I deeply care about and have invested in I don’t want to do that. So I’m not going to make connections with people. But I don’t think that’s what life is about. I think life is about making those connections, even knowing that you will have to say goodbye at one point, I think

Lara Taylor 26:09
and sending them off in the best way possible.

Link Keller 26:11

Lara Taylor 26:13
Yeah. I think about I had a friend had to say goodbye to their pet yesterday and thinking about the fact that they are I mean, it ultimately we do have to say is there is a goodbye in every relationship eventually, no matter how it comes. But like with pets, it’s like, you bring that that creature into your life and love it and then you know, you’re gonna outlive them. Unless something like unexpected happens to you and just knowing and nurturing that being I’m listeners can’t, can’t see but I’m looking at my cat right now, sleeping peacefully. But like, you know, someday you’re gonna have to say goodbye. And we pet owners keep doing it to themselves over and over and over again. So there is something to the connection right.

Marc Cuiriz 27:04
Now, yeah, I can definitely speak from like, you know, when you get try to get more nihilistic with it about not forming relationships or not forming those sorts of connections. I mean, yeah, in the grand scheme of things objectively, okay, maybe they are insignificant, however, to you as a person, like in your feelings and your emotions, like, those are meaningful. And so even though Yeah, our time around is finite. And, you know, there’s, that’s at time when you will have to say bye, like, there’s no like, if those connections obviously bring meaning and they elicit you know, all these other feel good emotions and everything and then like, I’d say that they are one of the things that do give life meaning. And Lara, as you were looking at your cat, I proceeded to look at mine who’s been bugging me nonstop. And now he’s sleeping on the floor, so

Lara Taylor 27:59
they’re both sleeping.

Marc Cuiriz 28:00
Yeah, exactly.

Mary Devorak 28:04
To speak to that nihilism piece so when I was in college, I had a heart surgery at 19 and well two open hearts and it was quite a bit and I don’t think I ever even considered thinking in that way I don’t know why at least at that age. And I actually designed self study doesn’t mean it credits While having surgery of course, why would I not continue College?

Lara Taylor 28:44
Until you’re going through these major things, yeah.

Mary Devorak 28:47
Don’t worry. In the course was called death as a motivator for life. And it was just I loved writing that paper and it brought a lot of hope and and these games remind me of that like, there’s bright colors and sometimes softer colors. But there’s hugging there’s like cats and cats for me represent just everything amazing and love even when they’re

Link Keller 29:23
little monsters

Mary Devorak 29:24
Yeah. And so it just it it really works into that death positivity through games and through being able to to interact when we we choose to do so.

Link Keller 29:42
Now I didn’t like I said I did not play through to the end of spiritfarer but what I have read is that near the end it is revealed that Stella the character her life job it was is was a hospice nurse. And so really reflecting like the real life experiences of people who help others prepare to die and the process of that, I think that that’s really cool. I don’t know how it actually shaped shakes out in the in the game. And if I assume it’s handled well, it’s a beautiful game. They clearly deeply cared about every little aspect about it. So I’m sure it’s great. But I think there’s really fun way to sort of draw that line for people who aren’t in death industry don’t regularly think about this stuff. And it’s like, Yes, this is a mystical, magical, fun, colorful game, but like real people do have this job of spending time and effort just trying to help people feel comfortable and feel ready to move on and let go and say goodbye. Even when people in their life, aren’t. Yeah, I think that’s really important. Yes,

Mary Devorak 31:08
I wish I could speak more to the ending too.

Lara Taylor 31:14
Yeah, it’s a game that’s on my list of games to play. And there’s too many games.

Marc Cuiriz 31:22
It’s a game I just added to my list.

Unknown Speaker 31:24
Nice. Yes. Mine has a moose? stella isn’t a moose? is that because it’s on the switch? or the old one?

Link Keller 31:34
the I think that’s I can’t remember the character’s name. But that’s the first companion that you get on your, on your boat.

Mary Devorak 31:42

Link Keller 31:42
is the dear lady, who, I can’t remember exactly what it is. But it is revealed in game that they knew each other in life. And so it’s like, they like that. That’s the first like you collect four or five other characters onto your boat before the deer character is ready to depart. But it is very important that is like it is established that like Stella knows her personally, they they have a connection already, even past, like the connection that you build on the boat in that moment. And it’s very meaningful to let that that’s the first person that you let go. And that’s like, it’s a hard one. Because it’s like, wait, no, I know you I care about you. I Like You know, me. Like there’s also that big aspect is like I’m losing a person who sees me. And that can that can be really hard to cope with in real life. So I think having having a game be all like, we’re gonna let you play that out is so important.

Mary Devorak 32:49
Yes, I agree. Because one person experiencing different deaths, they all look different. And even our grieving can look different. And the way we say goodbye. And I love how that gets to be played out in this game. I know before, like, Well, I was beginning to train as a death, doula volunteering, and hospice, all of those things. I hadn’t had a family member who I lived with and really close to me pass away yet. And right in the middle of all that I did. And it kind of really changes how you look at everything. Just the different experiences and what, what people actually go through.

Link Keller 33:46
Yeah, wow, that, um, actually brings something up for me. In late 2019, I had a friend die. Who was one of my oldest friends, we had become friends in high school. And it was really hard because I was very close with her and I’m still very close with her parents they’re. They’ve basically adopted me, those are my, they’re my sparents, as I like to say, and it was very difficult to deal with that grief. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t like the stereotypical like sobbing crying grief that you often see in TV and movies and stuff. It was very much a just sort of waves of like, oh, I can’t send her a link to this stupid tik tok. I just watched or whatever. A couple of months later. It was living with a friend and his family at that time and his his mom fostered kittens Often often she’s a real she is a repeat foster failure. And so one of one of the kittens that she had fostered had become one of the house cats that lived there. His name was Hamish, and he was killed by a coyote right around his one year mark. And that hit me way more in the sobbing, crying over the top grief kind of way. And part of it was it was just it was very sad about this extremely sweet perfect precious little boy dying in a violent way. But it was absolutely also a release valve for processing Hanna’s death as well in a way that it’s like they were close enough together that I was like here’s the grief Whirlpool I’m in it um yeah

Lara Taylor 35:55
I was gonna say hold on this thread his the grief about Hamish pull on this thread that’s connected and it all gets connected and grief builds on different things in different ways.

Link Keller 36:06
Absolutely. Yeah. And so those were, those were both, you know, not not the first deaths that I had experienced in my life, but definitely the closest to me. And it was it was very interesting to process both of those and getting to see the way that you know, I felt about that how I still feel about it, you know, every so often scroll through my old pictures or Snapchats, like look from here’s pictures from three years ago, and you know, it’s Hamish, or it’s Hanna’s cats. And, you know, still missing them regularly. frequently. There’s still I’m, I’m mad that Hanna did not live to see our flag means death, because she would have been just as obsessed as it was, as I am. But I definitely I have played.

Lara Taylor 37:05
Maybe wherever Hanna is, it’s replaying over and over again,

Link Keller 37:10
just gets to play all the good games

Marc Cuiriz 37:12
or they’ve already got season 2.

Lara Taylor 37:14
I know.

Link Keller 37:16
She’s already watched it, man. But yeah, I think that there have definitely been moments in, in games and TV shows where I’ve gotten to be like, Wow, that right, there is an exact representation of how I have felt in my grief, and how it felt to say goodbye, and how it felt to have to reimagine the way that my life looks and is going to look moving forward with this absence. um, Yeah,

Mary Devorak 37:51
and that, and games and media can give us like, almost permission to be more vulnerable. And like, express that because maybe we’re just playing it by ourselves in a room and nobody else has to see but we get to process that in our own way and let it come out.

Lara Taylor 38:11
We’ve talked several times on this podcast about how I’ve processed grief through games and movies, and you were talking about it Link you’re talking about how red like the game whatever’s going on kind of resonates with you came back to the God of War episode we did where it gave me an insight into my Dad’s experience. Now having a kid who is feeling kind of lost in the loss of a mother. And, I mean, obviously my dad is not Kratos, he’s a very, very gentle loving guy. Link has had dinner with him and can can attest, he’s very sweet,

Link Keller 38:53
sweet fella.

Lara Taylor 38:55
But kind of seeing the insight into having to deal with your own grief and manage your child’s grief in the same at the same time. It’s something that I knew about but didn’t really see until I played that game.

Link Keller 39:14
God of War is one of my favorite examples to point to because in the original 2005 PS2 to God of War, the opening cutscene is like Kratos’ wife and kid are dead and you’re you’re Kratos and you’re so mad about it that you’re gonna kill God

Lara Taylor 39:33

Link Keller 39:34
and that’s like that’s that’s it. and then in the 2018 God of War remake. They have an opening scene where you are preparing. Kratos’ wife, her pyre her body. You are doing like she This was her like her wish for when she died as she wanted this to happen and you are doing in that and then throughout the whole game like regularly, Kratos and Atreus are, sorry I was like oh god is that right? Atreus are discussing this loss and you get to see them be melancholic about it, you get to see them be angry about it, you get to see, like, the ways that when Atreus expresses a certain feeling Kratos has like, he has an emotional response based on his own experiences, but he has to like sort of pull back and be like, well, I can’t put that on on this kid. Like, he’s dealing with it in his way, and I’m dealing it within, in my way, and he doesn’t sort of gruffly but he does express that to Atreus. Like, look, you lost somebody, I also lost her. Like, and my loss is not identical to yours, and the way that we’re feeling it is shared but not identical. And I think that that was like such a beautiful way to engage in this game where you’re like, Yeah, you’re playing is Kratos, and you’re like, whippin dudes around and slashing, and fighting. And there’s a big snake dragon guy and like, also, like, what is it like to lose a mom? What is it like, a wife that you have, like willingly given up? godhood for to have that time with her? It’s like, huuuhhh

Lara Taylor 41:23
the second the second. The second wife, this is a second family like, oh, and I cried. Sobbing cries several times throughout that game, just because there were beautiful, real moments between the two of them. Yeah. Yeah.

Link Keller 41:42
That’s right Leia

Lara Taylor 41:45
guest appearance by the cat.

Marc Cuiriz 41:48
You know, I think one of the first games that I can really think about that really got me to like, think about the concept and like, started getting becoming really okay, in coming to terms with this idea of death was actually Dante’s Inferno, which I know is like, it’s like an older game. And I remember my friend, let me borrow it because like, I was really into that sort of stuff. And like, the whole Dante’s Inferno, you know, or the Dante, you get what I’m saying, anyway, the fact that like, throughout the whole game, like, it’s Dante going through trying to basically get his wife back, because he can’t accept the fact that she’s dead. And then throughout the whole game, like you have the option of either absorbing souls or you can absolve them. So you can choose to like, say, Okay, no, like, you’re, you don’t deserve to be in hell, like, let’s absolve you and like, give you this chance to enter purgatory or paradise. And then towards the end of the game, you know, you get the you learn that, like, No, you’re already dead Dante like, but he still decides to fight for this, and then come to terms with his own death and work towards redeeming him’s himself, and entering eventually purgatory at the end of the game, but like, that was my idea. That was like the first introduction for me of like, so like, death is one of those things where like, it’s gonna come and it’s just gonna happen, and you can choose to spend this entire time trying to deny it, or trying to run from it or trying to cheat it. But it does not matter. Because at the end of the day, like, it’s still coming, it’s still going to happen. And at some point, you just have to learn to accept that and once you can accept that, that’s when you can start finding that sense of peace. Because otherwise you’re kind of always stuck in that torment, or that fear or anxiety or you know, whatever else is kind of whatever else death sort of brings up for you. So really old, very violent video game, but it taught me the beginnings of how to accept death is just the natural way of the world.

Link Keller 44:00
Yes, it’s good stuff. Alright, let’s, let’s touch on another TTRPG.

Mary Devorak 44:14
So our haunt is an RPG that was created by Ray Niyati, published in 2019. A, so is a tabletop RPG about a family of ghosts built on the belonging outside of the belonging system, and I’m sure all of you’re familiar with BOB. Basically, though, that means that it’s rules light. There are no dice and there are no masters. So it really focuses on narrative. And like all of the players telling their stories together and, and having that agency which I think was a really cool thing to do in a game that has this theme around death. Because death oftentimes, you know, we don’t have a lot of agency, if any, we don’t get to choose when we get sick, or if something tragic happens. But there are other choices along the way. So then you get to create your own narrative. So the way this starts, y’all get characters, my favorite character is the cat.

Lara Taylor 45:48
Of course,

Link Keller 45:48
of course.

Mary Devorak 45:49
So there’s other characters like the doll and the betrayed faceless, like, they’re all really like, cool and different aspects of like, they just add different dimensions to the game. And but I really did appreciate that they also put an animal in there because I guess for me, my animals are my children, and, and they’re like, very dear and important and little living souls as well. So in the game, back to the game, each character can’t say people have fragmented memories of like the life that they once lived, but they don’t really remember fully what’s happened, like what happened to them, or what happened in their lifetime. And the character, the players actually get to decide throughout it, how much they get to discover and what they get to discover, which I liked as well. The other really cool thing is that each player plays a character, and then each player plays a room. So that kind of gives some balance to not having a GM, because maybe one of the characters is more centered in one of the rooms. And a character that’s not more centered, not more focused on at that time, can be playing the room and playing NPCs and adding to the narrative in a very different way. So it gives you it gives you the opportunity to experience like both being the person or the animal who died and influencing that, that soul, or however you want to put it. Yeah,

Link Keller 47:53
I really, I love games that are basically just cooperative storytelling, which is TTRPGs in general, but I think that it is very reflective of real life experiences where after somebody dies, you and the people who knew that person, like you get to pull pieces of stories together, and to create and, you know, not all inclusive of a person’s life because you can’t, you can’t know everything about a person.

Mary Devorak 48:31
It’s too much, yeah.

Link Keller 48:31
You can’t know everything about where they existed and how they interacted with their spaces. But you get pieces and you get to see other people who knew them and you get their pieces and you get to hold those pieces together and decide how you want to shape them into a way to memorialize that person. Obviously, in real life, when that is happening, it is heavier, and sometimes you find out pieces that you kind of wish you to know or pieces that just don’t resonate with you. But when you’re playing this game, you’re doing it cooperatively. The point is to have that enjoyment and and find that meaning in each other’s stories and bouncing off of each other in like, Well what about this and what do you think about this and having an expansive moment of better understanding this character that you made up like 15 minutes ago or whatever? I think that that is very cool.

Lara Taylor 49:31
Yeah, this game is I remember watching a live stream that Mary was in

Mary Devorak 49:37
hah, yeah

Link Keller 49:38
a plug for castt gamers C A S T T underscore gamers at Twitch

Mary Devorak 49:48
gays of our lives.

Lara Taylor 49:49
Yeah, because the game is it’s a queer game, and focuses on like queer experiences, even though it’s a very death centric game and I mean You can play it without focusing on the queer piece. But it’s probably going to be inherently queer in that sense. But the different playbooks, some of them, the idea is like are you going to be able to play to find out if you figure out how you died, or how you knew somebody in in your previous life and things like that. And I liked the pieces about building on other people’s stories and like getting the bits and pieces. I can’t remember where I heard about this game, it was probably some panel somewhere at a convention, I don’t know what one or a live stream I watched. But somebody talked about a game about death, where everybody’s in the playing the game is at a funeral. And you’re all telling pieces about this person. And one of the things that you have to tell is something negative about the person. Because when people die, and we go to their funerals, or memorial services, their celebrations of life, we only look at the positive pieces of them. And I think it’s a way the game was a way for people who have complicated grief, to be able to process like, it’s okay to also think these negative things about people. And it’s just cool when people are building together this story, and like talking and building up who this person was in their in their story. And it doesn’t all have to be the good stuff. I can’t remember the name of the game either.

Mary Devorak 51:45
In this game, you I think it has questions, I should have looked at at the game before this. But I think it has questions where you get to decide like the tone, and all of those types of safety mechanics that are specific specially to that situation, games about death. So you can make it like a funny in a humorous game, if you want. If other players are comfortable with it, you can make it sad. Like, maybe you’re in a position where like, sadness is all around you. And that’s you want to play that out. Or you can make it really scary and terrifying and be like a scary doll type of player. Which, which all of them get really interesting and valid ways to process through in each person’s own individual way.

Lara Taylor 52:47
Yeah, yeah. And I think you’re right, most of the belonging outside belonging have some kind of safety mechanic around that, especially like horror games, which I think it’s described as a horror game. But yeah, you could totally make it goofy and even most of the games that I know that I play with castt gamers, even if it’s a serious game, there are some intense moments of laughter by nature, because it’s friends playing together. So

Link Keller 53:19
I think that’s one of the benefits is like, like playing these kinds of games, these kinds of TTRPGs is that ideally you are playing with people that you trust and have a connection with and so you feel safe enough to explore darker, heavier stuff and still have those you know, relief moments of laughing at something silly and you know, creating inside jokes around gameplay and stuff like that. I think that that’s that makes the experience more meaningful and gives it an opportunity to be even more impactful on your own internalized thinking, beliefs, attitudes towards death and dying Okay, we are approaching our hour mark, which is usually when we wrap up.

Mary Devorak 54:11

Link Keller 54:12

Mary Devorak 54:12
what’s your favorite game Link? we need to talk about that one

Link Keller 54:15
the the other two video games that I wanted to touch on are That Dragon Cancer, which came out in 2016. And it is a game made by two parents whose son got diagnosed with terminal cancer and it like a morticians tale. It is very soft. Graphics. Everything is sort of derealized in a way that makes it not so overwhelming. And it’s sort of fantasticalized because it’s necessary as the content is very heavy. But it is it is a great game. It is it is hard to play it, because it is sad, but it is a very good game. And I think it’s a great example of making a game as a grief process like, Mom and Dad worked on this game together, like, the dad did a lot of the programming stuff and design work. The mom did a lot of the writing. But it was literally part of their process of grieving and incorporating their other children into the story. And it was part of their grief process. And then sharing that with the world which like, Wow, thank you like that was not necessary, but deeply appreciated. And then my my favorite game, maybe of all time, but definitely of games about death and dying. What remains of Edith Finch, which is fantastic. It is a series of vignettes about the finch family, you play each one each family member and it is the moments leading up to their death. And some of them are very fantastical, and some of them are short and sweet. But it’s is really, really good. I highly recommend if you get an opportunity to play this game, you absolutely should. It really makes you think about how death and dying, grief can really feel very individual when you are experiencing it. But it’s literally its history it is every person’s history is that the people who came before them died. And we only get a little bit amount of time to exist and to make connections with people and to try and understand that and how we teach our children about it. And how our children internalize those lessons and how they pass it on to their children. i It’s such a good game. Highly recommend it. I know, Mary, you just played through it recently, if you wanted to jump in.

Mary Devorak 57:16
Yeah, I did just play it recently and loved it. I liked that. You know, it’s not a game that takes like, hundreds of hours to play through if you can,

Link Keller 57:26
it’s about three hours long. Three and a half.

Mary Devorak 57:29
Yeah, yeah, yep. But has so much packed into those three hours. I think one of the things that stood out for me the most was seeing everybody’s all the people that have died, like their stuff in their rooms still there. That’s like, such a real part of the grief process. And like after you lose a loved one. My parents lost my brother when he was 22 months old. And my mom was seven months pregnant at the time with my sister. And they didn’t have a lot of money. But they got all new stuff for my sister because they couldn’t give Daniel’s stuff to a new baby. It was like going home and, and seeing all of that stuff. And when I played this game, that’s kind of what it brought me to. And it was like, heartbreaking. And I cried and I also really appreciated it because it was so real. And I think to play it, I would have to be in the right mindset again. But I totally agree Link that it’s such a good game

Link Keller 58:57
okay, let’s, uh, we have a few. Oh, I guess two more TTRPG we wanted to touch on there’s epitaph and the reaper’s Almanac.

Mary Devorak 59:16
Yeah, and these two are ones that I can speak a lot to, actually. So

Link Keller 59:25
basically, basically, epitaph is a game where you are like the a couple of the other ones that we’ve touched on, you are telling the story of a person like the life story of somebody who is already dead, and you are doing that cooperatively with other people. So you are coming together to create a life story for somebody already knowing like they’re already dead. We know how the story ends, or we know that the story ends and we are going to create it together. Reapers Almanac is like Letter Writing TTRPG and you are playing as a grim reaper, and you are telling the story of people who have died. And the idea being that as you exchange these letters, you come to understand death and your connection to these people over time and I think it’s you know, it’s just another way to take turns telling stories to try and you know, sort of process what it is to be a mortal being cuz man, it’s weird innit?

Mary Devorak 1:00:41

Lara Taylor 1:00:42
We can agree on that, for sure.

Link Keller 1:00:45
For sure. All right, Lara, and Marc, are there any other deaths, games that you guys want to touch on before we wrap up?

Lara Taylor 1:00:57
Literally, I just finished playing return of the Obra Dinn. I love I love that game. Yeah, the premise of the game is you’re an inspector with like a, they don’t really explain a whole lot. But you’re an inspector with like this magic pocket watch that lets you go back to the moment of some someone’s death. And you can examine it from like, it’s a still shot, but you go around, and you can move around all the pieces and look at things from different angles. And a ship went off into the sea 60 people were on the ship. And nobody was on it when it returned. So you have to figure out what happened. Most of those people died. And you have to figure out how they died. What what who killed them. It is masterfully done. Really low graphics. It’s like an old Macintosh graphics from like, the 80s. It’s, and it was a lot of fun. I liked the way that you could figure out people’s relationships through who they were near when they died. Those connections, there are people who were married on the ship and you figure that out through different details. I was obsessed for the last few weeks, a client suggested the game to me and they always give me choice games.

Link Keller 1:02:28
Like that game in, like January of 2021. I spent like, I don’t know, three or four days playing through the whole thing. Loved it. It’s basically a logic puzzle. You you get bits of information and you use that to like, okay, it can’t be person A B C. But it could be person E or F. And you know, figuring out who killed who and it’s like, well, that person

Lara Taylor 1:02:55
does that person have a tattoo.

Link Keller 1:02:57

Lara Taylor 1:02:58
Or like, what was another one who has a wedding ring? There’s, like, yeah, there’s lots of little bits. I don’t want to throw out like, a bunch of the secrets, but there’s some good things that like, oh, like, what are they wearing? What kind? Yeah

Link Keller 1:03:16
I think I think it’s, I mean, it’s a really engaging game to play but I think it is also a fun a way to engage with the idea of people who are doing the after somebody dies, work, figuring out you know, like what happened you know, we talked about morticians tale that that covers sort of similar stuff, but I think

Lara Taylor 1:03:45
this is like the crime scene investigator like 1800s edition,

Link Keller 1:03:50
it’s got a magic some fantasy, but is also like, you know, somebody trying to piece together like what happened We can’t ask the person they are dead. So we’re going to try and figure it out

Lara Taylor 1:04:03
was that person shot? Or were they stabbed by some sea monster? I don’t know. I have to look at different scenes and see what actually did the person in. beautifully done

Link Keller 1:04:16
yeah, great game.

Lara Taylor 1:04:19

Link Keller 1:04:19
Marc you got you got anything.

Marc Cuiriz 1:04:21
I mean, nothing in the sense of like, the idea of like the grieving process or like or like coming to terms of those things. But I mean, the one game that just kind of blatantly just screams at me is destiny with the idea that like to start it off, like the some of the opening lines is, you’ve been dead for a really long time and then it deals with the idea of coming back or in this case, you can even consider it more of like the afterlife where like now you have these choices. But as the game has gone on now and like now with like the newest expansion, it’s dealing with this idea of remembering who you were remembering what your life was prior to your death and what that necessarily means and giving it

Lara Taylor 1:05:10
gonna get me back into Destiny now you’ve sold me on it

Marc Cuiriz 1:05:16
and they play it on the idea of the light and the darkness, the darkness is what helps you remember. But again, it’s the darkness and nobody knows what that is because it’s the dark, and they just kind of always just kind of assume that that was a bad thing, because the traveler is the light, and that’s what brings that that’s what like, released the ghosts and allowed the guardians to be revived and things like that. However, upon revival, you have no idea who you were, you have no idea what your life was like. But going through the darkness, you start gaining those bits and pieces, or you start learning the bits and pieces of other like other guardians or in the witch queen, you learn about Savathûn, who like in her life, but I mean, like you also kind of get a feeling of what that was like because of you know, Destiny one, and then things like that going on. But it’s one of those things where like, you’re dealing with the concept of a quote unquote, afterlife. And then what does that entail? Like? Do you remember who you are? Or like, is it something that like, you should just kind of shy away from, hey, you’re, this is your life now. Go ahead and live it, go run’n’gun and just, you know, fight off alien species, or try to get to the deeper understanding and find out what this balance is between remembering what your life was like before, knowing full well at least in that universe, that there, you know, like the people that you knew back then are long dead, or for all you know, some of those people that you knew, maybe they came back as guardians and now they’re somewhere out and the system you know, doing God knows what. So like, you know, it’s one of those interesting things to kind of think about and it’s one of those it’s another one of those games where you kind of stop and think about like that that aspect of like what goes on after you’re dead. So.

Link Keller 1:07:11

Lara Taylor 1:07:13
I love it. One game I forgot to mention. Tiny Tina’s Wonderland is based off of the DLC in Borderlands two, I can’t remember exactly the name of the DLC. But basically Tiny Tina is processing the death of her friend through a d&d game, even though it’s bunkers and badasses. And I think Josué and I’ve mentioned it before, that it is the most Geek Therapy thing ever. The fact that she’s going through this grieving process, and people try to remind her like, no, no, he’s gone. And she’s like, no what were you talking about? He’s right here in the game, he’s gonna do this thing. And I just, it’s a beautiful thing, I still need to play through tiny Tina’s wonderlands. I’ve done very little of that gameplay, but very fun. And I think it’s another important aspect of like, watching how someone processes it in a way that is like, it’s a child, like she’s a child, when you know, a child that makes bombs and talks about badonkadonks, but the way children process is so it’s so different than how we do as adults. So I thought I thought it was really cool

Link Keller 1:08:33
that is a great example. Because kids process things through play. And it’s something that we tend to think of is that is just for children. But that is not true. Friends, family, you can play to better understand yourself and process shit and deal with things.

Lara Taylor 1:08:53
Go watch them castt gamers and you’ll see a bunch of us process a lot of shit.

Link Keller 1:08:57
Hell yeah. All right, Mary, do you have any final thoughts before we wrap up?

Mary Devorak 1:09:05
I am so glad that Lara mentioned Borderlands that’s like my kind of all time favorite of games. And I just wanted to add that one of the characters is graveborn, a grave born. And for me that represents like, because I’ve thought so much about my own death, like using that as like an actual power and strength. And I just love it.

Link Keller 1:09:31
I love that too.

Mary Devorak 1:09:34
Thank you for having me.

Link Keller 1:09:35
thank you so much for joining us. This was a great conversation.

Lara Taylor 1:09:40

Link Keller 1:09:42
I might say even even better here than it would have been at taggs. I don’t know. But I’m gonna say now. It’s been wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us. You can find more content at Geek Therapy .org We got forums, we got discord. We got Facebook, we’ve got Twitter, find us. Links are in the show notes. Remember to geek out and do good, and we will be back next week.

Marc Cuiriz 1:10:18

Josué Cardona 1:10:19
GeekTherapy is a 501 C three nonprofit organization dedicated to making the world a better place through geek culture. To learn more about our mission and become a supporter, visit geek therapy.org

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Characters / Media
  • Ask A Mortician (YouTube channel) Caitlin Doughty
  • A Mortician’s Tale (2017)
  • The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix series)
  • Rest in Pieces (ttrpg)
  • Spiritfarer (2020)
  • Our Flag Means Death
  • God of War (2005)
  • God of War (2018)
  • Dante’s Inferno (2010)
  • Our Haunt (ttrpg)
  • That Dragon Cancer (2016)
  • What Remains of Edith Finch (2017)
  • Epitaph (ttrpg)
  • The Reaper’s Almanac (ttrpg)
  • Return of the Obra Dinn (2018)
  • Destiny 2 (2017)
  • Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands (2022)
Themes / Topics

Conversation Topics:

* Death
* Difficult emotions
* Finding Oneself/Identity Development
* Resilience
* Working with others
* Play

Relatable Experience:

* Acceptance
* Clarity/Understanding
* Coming of age/Getting older
* Death
* Fear/Anxiety
* Grief

Questions? Comments? Discuss this episode on the GT Forum.

Links / Social Media

Check out the GT Network: network.geektherapy.com

GT Forum: forum.geektherapy.org

GT Discord: geektherapy.com/discord

GT Facebook Group: facebook.com/groups/geektherapy

Find us at www.GeekTherapy.org | @GeekTherapy | Lara: @GeekTherapist | Link: @CHICKENDINOSAUR | Josué: @JosueACardona

Ask us anything through the Question Queue and we’ll answer on the show: geektherapy.org/qq

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