• Grim Work

    by  • June 13, 2013 • Immersion, Indie Gaming • 2 Comments

    I think I would love to watch an action movie based around poetry.

    I’m often surprised by the little things in games that draw me into their world. Sometimes the smallest detail will make the fictional world seem that much more real to me, turning something I’m goofing off with into something I obsess over. Deadly Premonition managed that by tying the lives of the NPC’s together over the course of the game’s side quests, creating this unique world where everyone mattered to the plot in some small way. The connections were subtle at first, and as each seemingly pointless character tied back into the plot I became more interested in it. The Grave Digger manages this in its own way as well.

    It’s a game about digging graves, naturally. You’re an old-timey grave robber looking to make some money, hopefully avoiding murderous ghosts in the process. The game plays with a sense of humor throughout its proceedings, with some silly dialogue between characters and some joke names on the tombstones I could look at. It didn’t take long before those tombstones started showing more serious, real-world messages. They were simple affairs, sometimes just a name, a date, and a short phrase. I didn’t pay much attention to them as I went along, but slowly, these realistic tombstones started to weigh down on me. One in particular took me completely by surprise, turning something fun into something quite depressing.

    It was a large tombstone of an angel, one that just towered over the others. I think it just had the word ‘Beloved’ and a name on it, but for some reason I felt tremendously guilty about digging up this grave. The fact that there was a child ghost not too far away screaming for her mom probably didn’t help (again with the harmed children business). Something about the proceedings felt very wrong in that moment, and I got the barest hint of what it felt like to be robbing the dead. I don’t know whether the guys at Home Groan Games meant for me to go through that feeling, but I did.

    It’s a terrible task to have to go through the remains of someone’s loved one and take the paltry things that were put in the coffin with them. It makes me think of my own family members who died and the small things that were I, or another family member, put in the coffin for them to take to their final rest. The idea of someone digging up a body just to take those items makes my stomach churn.

    Since I’m the one doing it, I felt another layer of guilt. Controlling one of these thugs made me feel like a bad person. I could almost sense a slime settling in over my body as I dug up these corpses, feeling drawn into the world and what it really meant to be a grave robber. This game goes out of its way to be silly and lighthearted in every regard, but within a few moments of perfect clarity it drove home how sickening a profession this was.

    It made me wonder how many of these people realized this about their jobs. Did those grave robbers feel the same guilt? Did it chip away at their sanity to know what they were doing to the people who buried the body? Were they just able to brush it off, ignoring thousands of years of traditions and beliefs about death? It made me really wonder how this job could have felt for the people who took it up. I wanted to understand how they saw it.

    That’s a wild thing to take away from a silly stealth game about a couple of clumsy grave robbers. Again, I have no idea if I was supposed to draw this from the game, but when you create fiction for a living you can never control what someone will take away from the work. I never thought I’d develop a fascination with grave robbers and their mindsets from playing this game; never even thought I would have a single serious thought about it. That small detail on that one tombstone made all the difference, though.

    It is often the small things in our lives and in our fiction that tie them the most to reality. Our lives are made up by small things, and it’s in seeing those things in fiction that we can immerse ourselves in the story. Seeing that simple word on a tombstone made it seem that much more real for how plain it was. It was the kind of wording I’d seen on tombstones several times before, and with that thought came the thoughts of all the other unpleasant times I’d been in a graveyard. All of a sudden, my real life and the fictional world came crashing together, and my thoughts came to a place I never expected.

    That’s the power of good fiction. Good job, Home Groan Games.

    If you’re curious about it, go try it out. It’s not a looker, but it’s a lot of fun.


    It's my site, my work, and my observations. Accept no Joel Couture substitutes!


    2 Responses to Grim Work

    1. Pingback: The Joystiq Indie Pitch: The Grave Digger - Act Arcade

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