Published on May 5th, 2013 | by Andy Astruc2
Money Shots: Boon Hill
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When I was about 12 years old, our class went to the local graveyard for the afternoon as part of history lessons. While there were bigger graveyards in the area, the local example was a tiny place perched on half a hill. The entrance was appropriately shrouded in overgrown branches and it clearly hadn’t been tended to in a long time. Some grave markers were nicely polished, little pots of wilted flowers perched beside them. Other were covered in dirt and moss. Many lay broken, with no way to tell where the grave they marked now sat. We even found one stone grave mysteriously ajar — our tiny minds racing with the possibility that a long-dead soul had forced the lid. Our main goal was to get charcoal rubbings of some of the graves, but I became fascinated with one headstone in particular that stood resolutely under a small tree, lichen covering half and the rest worn down by age and neglect.
I couldn’t help but wonder who the headstone belonged to, and how it got that way. Was his or her family not interested in tending the grave, or were there simply none left to do so? Did they die at the same time, leaving nobody to mourn? I wanted to pull off the lichen and get a better look, but it felt wrong somehow. And the subtle clues of my rubbing were a bit beyond the mind of a 12 year old sleuth.
No doubt this is the sort of contemplation behind Boon Hill, a self-described graveyard simulator. Boon Hill – created by Matthew Ritter — puts you in the cemetery and simply allows you to go about your business. You can look at grave stones, talk to other visitors, even pay your respects to the dead. Ritter explains on his Kickstarter page:
“To put it as simply as possible, Boon Hill is a game about reading gravestones. There might be a few other elements in the final product but the bulk of the game would be just walking through a graveyard, reading epitaphs and thinking about who these people were and never will be again.”
Ritter states quite openly that there’s no way to “win” in Boon Hill. Your character has a specific grave to find, but the game continues regardless, and will only end when you decide to leave the graveyard. You can’t lose the game either; there are no monsters or time limits or emotional breakdowns — not in the game anyway.
The project does seem to straddle that dangerous line between video game and digital experience, and certain people are bound to be put off by such open-ended, low-impact encounter. There was definitely a moment where my brain was frantically searching for the “challenge”. But it feels like there’s something to the idea of a more calm, measured and reflective video game moment. Ritter is attempting to virtualise a very specific, but important, piece of the human experience, and I’m certainly intrigued. Each gravestone in Boon Hill will tell a story, and often the stories of some of the other people interred on the grounds. Ritter notes in his pitch video that he was inspired by the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, which details the story of an entire small town using only epitaphs.
Boon Hill has a rather modest goal of $5,000 on Kickstarter — $4,233 of which has been secured at time of writing. However, he does note that this is the absolute bare minimum of funding he needs, with very little left after costs to do marketing and promotion. Those who enjoy the quiet humanity and mystery of the humble graveyard should keep a close eye on the project, and think about paying their respects.