The Graveyard is a short art game created by the belgium duo known as Tale of Tales. The group, comprised of married couple Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, is responsible for many indie games that each explore different aspects of the interactive space that is video games. The Graveyard is described by the makers as more like an explorable painting than an actual game. They play with the boundaries of games and the interactions of players as they tell the story of an old lady taking a walk through a cemetery. The game consists of the player walking their avatar of an old lady into a cemetery and up to a bench were a song remembering those who have died plays. After sitting on the bench and listening to the song being sung in Flemish Dutch with translated subtitles the player then can either remain on the bench where the music will soon start again without subtitles or simply get up and walk back out of the cemetery ending the game. The game is available in a free version as well as a payed version, with the only difference being that in the bought version there is a chance of the old lady passing away during gameplay.
The concept of death is definitely the main theme of the game, but its message entails so much more as well. The intriguing lyrics and the methodical movement of the elderly woman as she walks through the gravestones gives plenty of stimulation and story for the player to interpret and take in. However, the concepts of life and death are not all that is at play as the game also delves deeper into the game medium as a whole and how standards for games limit the artist’s message and capabilities to express their ideas in an unaltered manner.The artist talks about the decision to make the game and why they focused on the aspect of death stating
“In many games, death is simply a temporary game state, a way for the game to express your failure. We were motivated by this shocking disregard for the meaning of death to make something that explores this concept more deeply. Not just your own death but also how we live our lives among people who will die or have died. Death is a fascinating part of life. We find exploring the emotions and contradictions triggered by it, interesting and moving.” Samyn,Michaël(2008, May 2)The Graveyard post mortem
Chris Kohler from WIRED wrote about the game and touched on many aspects of the game, first being the importance of the story being told through the interactive space of gameplay saying
“Interactivity is a powerful thing. The Graveyard could have been a short film on YouTube and lost none of its presentational qualities, or its message. But the very limited interaction you have with the character — you can walk her forward and backward, or turn — instantly makes the connection deeper and more powerful than it would have been if you were simply watching.” Kohler, Chris(2008, March 21)The Graveyard‘s Ten-Minute Tale Of Death
The two aspects of the piece, the message of death and the interactive space it's presented in, exist in their own right and could be examined separately. However, overall meaning is added when they are compared. By having the choice to buy the ‘full’ version of the game the artists challenge and critique the game industry’s practice of releasing a trial game with a more complete version of the game available to purchase. The added feature of the old woman passing away while sitting in the cemetery also enhances the story greatly as it adds the sad truth of death happening at any moment into the conversation created by the game. Walking through the gravestones and then listening to the song about those who passed away the players are put into a position of empathy and connection to the elderly women as she reflects on it all. The fact that in the full game she can pass away while this is happening leaves the players to interpret her death in many ways. After the effort that it takes the elderly women to get to bench and experiencing it with her there is a sense of beauty as the women simply passes away. Maybe some will view it as tragic and sad that a life has ended while others look at the peace that is achieved as the elderly women reflects on those who she knew that are now buried before she is embraced by the silence of death.Offering his take on the additional possibility of the woman's death Kohler showed one manner in which the meaning of the game was interpreted writing
“it felt like the proper ending. She’d been traveling long enough, lost everyone dear to her, and had nothing left but to visit the graveyard and count all the headstones of those she had lost. Death was a release.”Kohler, Chris(2008, March 21)The Graveyard‘s Ten-Minute Tale Of Death
The Graveyard is similar to other works by Tale of Tales one specifically is The Endless Forest where players play as a magical dear casting spells and interacting with other players in the forest which was created as a space where people could exist and interact in a more peaceful fashion. Both games play with the normal boundaries of games and explore the possibilities of how the interaction of the games effect the themes and ideas. The space in both pieces are the main game feature as there is no objective or end game, the player simply exists and walk around. The story and message that the authors have for each game are brought to the player and then allows them to contemplate and think about them in a deeper level as they explore the space of the game.
Another work that pushes the norms of games and uses the interactive space to tell a story is the work by dutch artist Jeroen D. Stout named Dinner Date. In dinner date the player plays as the subconscious of a man as he is stood up on a date and then the story continues as the man reflects on all the troubles of his life putting the player in a similar state of empathy and connection with the character that is present in The Graveyard.
Gameplay when character dies