I Am Dead sounds like an awful game to play in year already so full of death and suffering, but as someone on the other side of the gaming experience, I simply can’t recommend it enough. It’s charming, lovely, and all of the words you gently insert into your vocabulary after hearing English accents uninterrupted over the course of a few hours.
The adventure puzzle game from Annapurna Interactive is admittedly more story than game. Created by Richard Hogg and Hollow Ponds (Hohokum, Wilmot’s Warehouse), I Am Dead both provides meaning to the afterlife and amplifies the importance of the small moments in life that can impact others long after we’ve stopped living.
The plot of the game is simple: You play as Morris Lupton, the curator of a museum on the fictional island of Shelmerston. Who is, you know, dead. As his spirit, you work with his dog, Sparky, to search for a new caretaker for the island. Shelmeston happens to have a volcano on it and Aggi, the spirit responsible for keeping that volcano from destroying the town, is tired of doing it after a few thousand years.
If that sounds like an interesting story, know that it’s not really the focus of gameplay itself. In your search for a new caretaker, you learn the stories of recently deceased people in town who have met and influenced others still alive. Each story unfolds in a kaleidoscope of colors as images come into and out of focus while voice actors tell a story about an item you’ll need to find to help Sparky sniff out their spirits.
It’s a game about an island filled with fish people, bird people, and ordinary humans as well. And despite its whimsy and unique humanoid creatures, it’s also one of the most beautiful reflections on life I’ve ever experienced with a controller in my hand. The game’s stories are heartfelt, with love stories and tragic accidents given a proper place in island lore. A puzzle game doubling as a meditation on the value of one’s life after it’s ended is heavy, sure, but it’s also a game about really good toast and smuggling booze and how mementos and keepsakes keep people alive long after they’re gone.
Finding those keepsakes is the main goal of the game, which is done with a point and click navigation of sorts. Items that are clickable get zoomed in on and, since you’re dead, you have the power to look through them and reveal things hidden inside. Most of the main puzzles are fairly easy to snuff out by paying attention to the story, and each item can be found in the nearby area where you hear the tale. But there are more challenging scavenger hunts to be found in the game, with spirits called Grenkins hiding in each area you unlock with the help of abstract images you create by turning and looking “through” items.
There’s also a more mischievous character in the game offering riddles with a time limit if you really want to be challenged, and other surprises await those who seek them out. Once you start looking around, it’s likely you’ll take any excuse to further explore the game’s vibrant island setting. It really is beautiful, a fictional island where everyone lives together in harmony despite things constantly changing. In what’s been such a difficult year for so many, the chance to explore a world so full of connection and meaning was a welcome suggestion of what this reality could be.
“Nobody is just anything, Morris,” your dog assistant Sparky will say at one point, implying not only that everyone has several roles in life but that they’ve all meant something to someone at one point or another. Considering that connection can be overwhelming sometimes, but it’s also a nice reminder that how you treat others and the way you live your life carries on in those who keep your stories.
It’s a really lovely thought, especially in a year so fraught with pain and abrupt endings for so many. I Am Dead doesn’t bring anyone back to life, but it does serve as a reminder that some things just aren’t measured by time the way we think. That alone makes this game a story worth experiencing for yourself.