Frazer Blog

Mourning online: A look at death and video games

by | Feb 24, 2017 | For Families

PS4 Controller

There are no right and wrong ways to mourn. Each family, community, and culture have their own distinct ways of mourning a loss.

Some mourn through nature. Some mourn through food, others through dancesBut video games?

It’s not as crazy as you might think. Video games have been used to relieve stress from everyday life, build and maintain friendships, and — as it turns out — mourn.

Online Mourning

Mourning online isn’t entirely new and it’s a trend we’ve talked about before. As some people have put it, death has gone digital. Obituaries are no longer static pages — but places where family and friends can share memories and stories with each other.

There are online grief communities to help the bereaved heal together. There are even death positive movements online that encourage the open discussion of death to help us understand grief and loss better. And now death has made its way to video games.

Let’s look at the recent loss of Carrie Fischer as an example.

Memorializing Celebrities

After Carrie Fischer passed away, online gamers around the world gathered in the Star Wars: The Old Republic video game to hold a vigil in honor of her and her famous portrayal as Princess Leia.

It wasn’t the first time gamers gathered to honor a celebrity. When Leonard Nimoy passed away in 2015, gamers held a similar online vigil. In several online games (including Star Trek Online, a game Nimoy voice acted in), gamers gathered to pay respects. It’s estimated that thousands of players showed up for the online video game vigil.

Not Just for Celebrities

Mourning in a video game isn’t reserved for the famous. As online gaming communities continue to grow, they’ve offered people a new outlet to mourn together.

Gamers frequently hold online in-game funerals for their friends — sometimes even for people they’ve never met. The Independent wrote that “the level of camaraderie and cooperation that goes into lengthy Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) can make a person’s absence particularly noticeable.”

There are unique rituals that different online communities have, and many rituals often mirror our real-world funeral ones. For example, in the online game Eve, players use a special code to signify a virtual salute to honor a deceased player. Some video games even have virtual graveyards for deceased players.

Psychologists believe online rituals have the same healing effect as normal death rituals — and they are especially helpful for those who are unable to attend a funeral in person.

Video Games as Means to Mourn

Taking it a step further, video games are being designed solely with mourning in mind. There is even a video game that’s focused on running and operating a funeral home.

One such video game is called That Dragon, Cancer. The game was created by Ryan Green as a tribute to help memorialize his son, Joel, who passed away at age 5 from brain cancer.

The game, according to its website, is an “immersive narrative video game that retells Joel Green’s 4-year fight against cancer through about two hours of poetic, imaginative gameplay that explores faith, hope, and love.”

That Dragon, Cancer was a unique way for the Green family to mourn the loss of their son, and it also helped them open up and talk about their loss. The game is designed to take players on an emotional journey of healing, which is a big change from what most people expect when playing a video game.

In an interview with Engadget, Ryan explains how the game came to be. “I want people to love my son the way I love my son, and to love my son you have to meet my son. A video game gives the opportunity to meet my son and meet our family, and kind of walk with us in our shoes, but from a safe place.”

Watch a trailer for That Dragon, Cancer below.

What are your thoughts on video games as a way to mourn? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!


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