Death & Video Game Development

As a video game developer, Gabby DaRienzo has always been interested in how death is represented & dealt with in games. The interactivity of video games makes them the perfect medium to explore topics like death, giving players the opportunity to participate in and explore mortality, loss, and grief directly. In this post Gabby shares with us how her latest project, the development of a death positive video game evolved. Because seriously, who wouldn’t want to play a Mortuary Simulator?

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– Gabby DaRienzo –

Gabby

Gabby is a Toronto-based independent video game developer whose work is often influenced by death. She has written pieces for Killscreen and A MAZE Magazine about death positivity in video games, and is the host and producer of the Play Dead Podcast which talks with game developers about how death is used and approached in their games. Gabby is also the co-founder of Laundry Bear Games, the Toronto-based game studio currently developing the death-positive video game Mortuary Simulator.

You can follow her on twitter: @gabdar

 



How death is used in video games has always been of interest to me ever since I was a youth, playing fairly death-centric games like
Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and The Sims.

The interactivity of video games makes them the perfect medium to explore topics like death, giving players the opportunity to participate in and explore mortality, loss, and grief directly. And with the emergence of more accessible game making tools and open marketplaces to sell their projects, anyone can develop and share games that are personal to their feelings and experiences.

Last summer, I prototyped a pixel art game that I had been thinking about for a while — a game where you play as a funeral director, preparing the bodies of the deceased, dealing with their loved ones, and running your funeral home. I called it Mortuary Simulator.

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I had finished reading Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and was absolutely fascinated with learning about the history of the funeral industry, the processes behind cremation and embalming, the stories Caitlin told about dealing with families and loved ones, and learning about the death positive movement.

I wanted to make a game inspired by Caitlin’s stories and the work of other amazing death professionals and death positive members of the Order of the Good Death.

My goal was to make a game that gives the player the opportunity to directly deal with the theme of death, which is prevalent in many video games but is rarely ever explored past killing enemies or “game over” screens.

While working on Mortuary Simulator I started thinking more about how death is treated in games, and wrote a few pieces about death positivity and video games for Killscreen and A MAZE Magazine.

I was also interested in hearing game developers’ perspectives on how and why they were utilizing death in their games. With the help of my friends at Dorkshelf.com, I started the Play Dead podcast — a biweekly podcast in which I interview game devs on how they’re using death in their games.

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At this point, I had been slowly working on Mortuary Simulator for 9 months or so. But between learning more about the death positive movement, speaking with game developers about their thoughts on death, and researching the funeral industry, my design for Mortuary Simulator slowly started to change.

Instead of the game being focussed on “death in games” it started to just be focussed on death in general, and with that came a bunch of design changes that led to the game needing a new art style — pixel art wouldn’t cut it.

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After long conversations with my death-positive business/life partner Andrew (also a game developer) he agreed to help me develop the game, and we made the decision to make the game in 3D instead of 2D. I redesigned the main character in a low poly, flat shaded style and have started to rig and animate her body, as well as design her funeral home.

We’ve since received funding from Ontario Arts Council to make Mortuary Simulator into a full game, and are working with a team of some incredibly talented musicians, writers, and sound designers to help bring this game about death to life.

I’m excited to document the development process and share this death positive game with the world. I’m also looking forward to the future of death in video games, and learning about and discovering more video games that use death in interesting ways mechanically or narratively.

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