It’s a game that asks little of you: to wander around a cemetery and read the epitaphs scrolled across each grave’s headstone. Some contain heartfelt elegies, others solemn and matter-of-fact assertions. Beyond this, the game has no goal. Yet I found myself considering the finality of death and the futility of life as I covered the graveyard from corner to corner. Yes, I realise how pretentious that may sound, but it’s true.
Let me repost the Kickstarter trailer Graham posted when he first discovered Boon Hill last year, because it does a good job of explaining how creator Matthew Ritter arrived at the decision to make a “graveyard simulator”, something which no doubt seems a bit odd:
In there, Ritter asks the pertinent question “Why make such a game?” to which he says: “Because I feel there’s something to be experienced by exploring a graveyard, just for the sake of exploring a graveyard.” Doing so in reality can be a grievous exercise and is one which translates to Boon Hill’s virtual interpretation. Perhaps strangely, it’s sad but quite lovely at the same time.
As I wandered its sprawling grounds I read dozens of micro insights into the imaginary lives of imaginary people presented via imaginary inscriptions. “Just getting started and it was over,” read the particularly poignant headstand of Corra Flynn – who was born in 1910 and who died eight years later. A children’s doll lay next to her lair. Next to Vergil’s stone, who was only identified by his first name and year of death, stood a shopkeeper who knew the deceased as a customer – perhaps an indication that he passed without a family to visit. Often, there are long breaks in the piano melody that chimes along in the background. The sobering silence adds to the grimace of the subject matter – it’s really powerful stuff, even given the playful sprite aesthetic the game displays. Some areas of the cemetery are empty, barren almost, yet to be filled, but act as a reminder that we all die in the end.
“I wish life had a win condition,” laments another visitor. Life doesn’t. Boon Hill doesn’t. But it won’t be the last time I wander its grounds.
Boon Hill is out now and can be purchased here.