Wednesday, April 7, 2010

World of Deadcraft

Many cultures have something going on in the Spring. Last weekend was Easter, when Jesus rose from his tomb and trans-substantiated into a chocolate-egg-laying rabbit. It was also Passover, the Anti-Yeast Festival of the Jewish tradition. Of course let's not forget Nowruz, aka Zoroastrian Spring Break; and of course Egyptian Fun Day Sham el-Nessim.

Meanwhile, in China, they had the Tomb-Sweeping Festival, (清明节 qing1 ming2 jie2). This is the holiday on which you are supposed to go to the tomb or grave of your ancestors and clean it off, pull out the weeds around it, place flowers, burn incense and spirit money (legal tender in the underworld), and generally pay your respects to the departed. It takes place 15 days after the vernal equinox (chun1 fen1 春分). It is an ancient traditional holiday, but it only became a recognized national holiday in 2008.

Of course real graves and tombs are expensive, and who has time to go to the cemetery anyway? Enter the e-Tomb.

A website has sprung up,, where users can create accounts and set up virtual tombs in virtual graveyards all over virtual China. Then they can go and virtually do stuff at the grave, like pray, offer incense or place gifts. At the bottom of the home page is a counter. It says (as of this week):

Birth count (chu1 sheng1 tong3 ji4 出生统计): 107395824161

Death count (si3 wang2 tong3 ji4 死亡统计): 100552766469 

Dearly departed in residence: (gu4 ren2 jin4 zhu4 故人进驻): 19285

So there is lots of room for expansion!

On the site, you can click on a map of China (there is also an overseas section) to select the region where you want the tomb to be. Then a virtual graveyard complex pops up (shown in the picture above) and you can scroll around and select which part of the 'Net necropolis you want to set up the tomb in. Once you click in, you can see a bunch of graves that already have monuments in them, and other vacant spots. You can choose one of the vacant spots for your online ossuary, or you can visit a grave that has already been set up.

The layout looks like a game map, which adds to the overall strangeness. Then, once you are zoomed into a specific grave it looks even more like a game (second picture (names removed to protect the cyberdead)). There are multiple icons all over the screen, but instead of spells and weapons like in World of Warcraft, you can select different flower arrangements, incense, food offerings or other objects to place at the grave site. Some of these are free, and other gifts and offerings can be unlocked by paying real money for them.

At graveside, there is also a Facebook-like news feed with recent activity for that particular pixellated polyandrium. (Sorry.) Just for fun, I tried clicking on the button labeled "Quick Grave Set-up," (kuai4 su4 jian4 mu4 快速建墓) but it asked me to register or log in first.

Is it modern apathy at its worst? Or is this in-silico interment a clever invention to suit the globalized world? You be the judge.


Susan Moger said...

Lots of great puns in your post.
This is so wacky and funny and just plain strange. What are they thinking???

Tom Gordon said...

I dunno Ben -- the cartoony, isometric game-esque design of that virtual cemetary really takes away from the memorial element. One would almost think the interface hides a 'porntipsguzzardo' cheat code, which unlocks a floral arcology, or something similar.

Of course, maybe it'll be updated as the years progress, like Neil Stephenson's literary Metaverse. Certainly a 3D approach would make more sense, since you could customize the tomb's architecture, provide an appropriate atmosphere (via weather effects), and otherwise reenact the ceremony in a more reverent manner...

Ben Moger Williams said...

Thanks for the comments guys! Tom, I agree, very unmemorial. I added a screenshot of the grave screen, which allows some customization but not tons. Also the strange ballon-basket thing on the right floats ethereally around the screen like the specter of Phileas Fogg.
Oh and I heard if you type in "reapermadness" you can upgrade to a Rolls Royce-shaped gravestone. (kidding)

Hoyoul said...

I much rather click on a sweep button on world of deadcraft than having to actually go to the tomb and physically sweep there... :D

Siew Gin said...

WHAT??!! So what is the point of an e-tomb? i don't get it.

Siew Gin said...

Oh, by the way, i finally got what you wrote on one of my blog comments. "Ingat ka" weirdly can be used both in Malay and Filipino. In Malay it means "Remember??" which i thought was maybe bad e-translation. But since my tagalog is getting better each day, it finally occured to me that you meant to say "you take care"!! ha! Got it!