Fictional companions and goth concerns.
I’m back on my dating sim bullshit: this time, with ghosts. In Ben Gelinas’ Speed Dating for Ghosts, your lonely specter ass hits up a dating service hosted by a bent-neck lady with antlers. The journey begins with a choice of differently themed rooms: The Room of Palms, The Room of Lyres or The Room of Black. I chose The Room of Black and found myself in a garden full of rotting fruits and plants. As a goth, this seemed the perfect in-game choice for a date – but would I go on an IRL date in a rotting garden? You fucking know it.
The first ghost I meet in the Room of Black is a punk named Drea with tentacle-hair and an interdictory circle on their ripped tank top. Drea starts our chat by saying, “OOOOooOOooo . . . I’m a ghoOOOooOost . . .” I respond, “OooOOooo.” We hit it off immediately. Drea embraces the ghost lifestyle: “Being dead is the best way to live,” they say. “Let’s be dead together.”
After a successful date, the game rewards you with bonus information on the love interest’s tombstone. According to Drea’s, they lived from 1972 to 1994, and “Spotty work door checking and carrying equipment at punk gigs paid for Drea’s more expensive habits . . . and plenty of good times. But things got bad towards the end.” Drea won’t discuss how they died, although an overdose is implied. The tombstone lists their cause of death as “unknown.”
This is dark, but Drea is one of the game’s funniest ghosts. “When I was alive, I loved jokes about dying,” Drea says. “I’d be all . . . ‘The best way to die is now.’ ‘Before death does me in . . . it should at least buy me dinner.’ Jokes, y’know? But now that I am dead? It just feels right. Like maybe it was meant to be.” Flippant morbidity centers them.
As Alyse Stanley wrote last year, Speed Dating for Ghosts’ “combination of absurdist humor with oftentimes touching stories of their time alive adds to each ghost’s humanity.” For a light-hearted game, it does a good job of treating life and individuality with respect. And it’s still dark. And it’s still funny.
For a light-hearted game, it does a good job of treating life and individuality with respect. And it’s still dark. And it’s still funny.
With an uptick in “death positive” awareness, helped along by organizations like The Order of the Good Death (who partially inspired A Mortician’s Tale) and Reimagine, conversations about death are hopefully getting easier. But comfortably conversing on a difficult topic is not the same as comfortably joking about it.
Like Drea, I also have a penchant for jokes about death, being dead inside, wanting to die, wanting to get killed with a sword, what have you. I’m often looking for the balance between “using jokes as a coping mechanism” and “being an insensitive jerk.” It’s easiest when I’m alone, because I’m not making anyone else uncomfortable, and because considering myself “dead inside” has been invaluable to me during various difficult personal periods of depression, loss and uncertainty.
Nevertheless, I don’t always want to be alone with my thoughts. Sometimes I want the comfort of empathy – rather, empathetic insensitivity. For better or worse, this often takes me to Twitter. In the last month, I’ve tweeted both “[A]lways bring a knife to a gunfight bc you will die immediately and not have to pay off your student loan debt,” and “I had to stop drinking coffee last summer for health reasons, and let me tell you, I want to die every day!” These are gags, but deeply felt in the moment. You should see my Twitter drafts (you really shouldn’t!), most of which are born from moments of despair and depression. But like Drea says, it’s “jokes, y’know?” If my doctor asks, I feel fine, thanks, and no, I would not like my medication adjusted.
Contemplating one’s own death, as Drea clearly did, is easier for many of us than contemplating the death of a person we love. When someone in my life passes away, I don’t joke. I can’t. But I still find myself remembering whatever humor we shared, just to remember them laughing.
Recently, a musician I knew passed away. I first met him at a punk show, where we talked about some of his lyrics: “I’ve got a joke for you / Sometimes I wanna die.” I told him I liked the song. He said something like, “Glad you want to die sometimes, too.” And we laughed.
The idea of dating a ghost is its own sort of humor. Empathetic insensitivity is a balancing act between total despair and total disregard, both extreme emotions capable of helping you re-center. And if that doesn’t work, maybe finding a relatable character in a dating sim will.