Death is a concept few of us are comfortable with. For most people, being afraid of dying isn’t something that directly impacts our days and nights. It might inform our decisions or get us thinking dark thoughts from time to time, but mostly, it doesn’t come up.
For some people, the idea of dying provokes intense, ongoing anxiety. That was the case for game developer Gabby DiRienzo when she was a child. In a piece for Glixel, DiRienzo describes days and nights spent thinking about death, worry about her own death and that of her mother. She developed an obsessive compulsive disorder that she associates with this fear.
Everything I did had to be in equal, measured actions: my steps needed to line up to fit between cracks on the sidewalk, if one arm brushed up against my side I needed to make the other arm did the same. Before I went to bed, I had to flip the light switch on and off an exact number of times before touching each wall in my room and hopping into bed.
If I could control everything else in my life, maybe I could stop my and my mother’s deaths from happening.
Often, severe death anxiety is treated with cognitive behavioral therapy. For DiRienzo, it eventually shifted into a more of a curiosity about death, one that was cemented during her time playing The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
The thing that struck me the most about Majora’s Mask, and why it meant so much to me as a kid, was how its characters dealt with their inevitable deaths. You as the hero know you can manipulative time and stop the world from being destroyed, but the residents of Termina don’t. They constantly relive the same 72 hours out again and again, not knowing anything but their certain doom.
Some of these characters, like the town’s guards, are convinced they can evacuate the city, and that will be enough to save them from the literal moon falling into the literal earth, while others deny it will happen completely, like Mutoh and his carpenter sons. However, some deal with their inevitable demise by continuing to live on their lives, worrying about where their fiance is, or making sure the mail arrives on schedule. And that part is what really stuck with me as a kid dealing with not knowing how to deal with death — you can’t stop death, but life still goes on.
Majora’s Mask was only part of DiRienzo’s journey with life, death and video games, so head on over to Glixel to read the full article.
She eventually went on to create a game of her own: A Mortician’s Tale, a death-positive game that encourages players to interact with the reality of death. It puts players in the role of a young funeral director and walks them through the steps of preparing bodies for burial.
Proponents of death positivity see it as an antidote to our societal terror of death, and possibly the anxieties that go with it. Just as a game once helped DiRienzo through her anxieties, her own game may help others.