The Graveyard

Posted by Gustavo Calvo-Simmons.
First posted on 07 September 2010. Last updated on 17 October 2013.
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The Graveyard
The path ahead in the graveyard is lonely.
The Graveyard
She slowly walks to the bench to rest.
The Graveyard
She is tired, of life and whatever else.
The Graveyard
Death is inevitable.
The Graveyard
She exits the graveyard to return again another day.

The game is available at GamersGate.

The Graveyard is not an average game; rather, it is an avant-garde art experiment in storytelling without words. In this game, the player assumes the role of an old lady who goes to visit a graveyard. The game pays homage to the visual narrative of the early French and Eastern European cinema. Much of the game's imagery is a rich symbolism about life and death, though the same imagery can also be interpreted as a symbol of tragedy, much like the Holocaust.

At the outset, it is clear that The Graveyard is not aimed at gamers who are simply interested in a typical point-and-click adventure but those who are seeking an entirely different gaming experience that is almost surreal. Gamers with preconceived notions of what video games are will find their absence in this game distributing. There is no real story here, except for the story that the player tells while playing as the silent protagonist who is walking slowly towards a bench that is laid at a distance. In this sense, the old lady (and therefore the player) has only a singular goal—reaching the bench in time before the fragility of her body prevents her from doing so—albeit with a catch. The catch is that the old lady can die at any time, regardless of what the player does. The game thus defies all the usual conventionalisms of a video game, as it blatantly and deliberately removes all illusions of control from the player on the fate of the old lady. Moreover, the old lady can only walk on a straight path that lies in front of her in the graveyard, and the player is not allowed to wander off the beaten path to explore other parts of the cemetery.

Death occurs rather suddenly and randomly in The Graveyard. As the old lady finally reaches the bench and sits down, a song begins to play. The lyrics of the song are in Dutch, though there are English subtitles. Once the melancholic song plays on, the player can see the face of a tired soul who is in peace with all the deaths that surround her. Without warning, and rather abruptly, the old lady slumps forward and then stops moving. Moments later, the player realizes that she has just died. Yet, the song keeps on playing, as if the game itself is unaware of her demise and continues on. Undoubtedly, this anticlimactic death will catch many players by surprise, as they wonder if another choice can be made to avert this unfortunate end.

The old lady can die at any time during the song. While it is believed that it is not possible to predict if the old lady lives or dies, I have found it to be otherwise. Rather, I have discovered a possible hint: if the old lady has not yet bent her head down when the song begins to play, there is a good chance that she may die at the end of the song; thus, it may be wise to make her stand up (by hitting the up arrow key) before she makes that fatal slump! Likewise, if the old lady is sat on the left side of the bench, she will likely die; but if the old lady is sat on the right of the bench, she will likely live. If the old lady does not die, the player can then walk her out of the graveyard to end the game.

The graphics and sounds in The Graveyard are very evocative. The black and white imagery in the game has a grotesque quality that is similar to the style of John Tenniel, best known for his illustrations in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

True to the experimental spirit of the developer, The Graveyard is released as both a free version and a paid version. The free and paid versions are identical in every way, except for the random element of death that occurs only in the paid version.

Without a doubt, Tale of Tales' The Graveyard is a unique title. It may be more appropriate to consider it as a piece of interactive painting (as the developer calls it) or interactive cinema than a video game. The Graveyard can be finished in less than an hour, though the experience it brings will likely last much longer.

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