There is a gift shop and arcade across the street, but people flock to the church instead. They approach the pulpit, passing their parents and other mourners in the pews as they walk by. There’s a conveyor belt on the pulpit. They sit down and wait patiently as it slowly carries them into an open grave. Face-down in the dirt, there is nothing but darkness.
After a few moments, they’re hit with blinding light as they fall into heaven and land atop a pile of bodies. They approach the pearly gates looking for salvation, but instead, they are mercilessly dumped into hell. Hell is a room of doors. After trying several without success, they finally open a door that has a portal back to Earth. They step on the platform to go home, rinse, and repeat.
This is a typical day at Joshman901 Roblox Funeral Home, Crematory & Grave Yard, the main attraction of the game “Funeral Home and Graveyard!” The game, created by user @zonex, is one of the most popular funeral home games on Roblox.
“Funeral Home and Graveyard!” has gotten over 3.3 million visits and has been saved or favorited by 33,584 users since its creation in 2018. Many Roblox TikTokers also promote the game on their channels. “We’re doing my funeral today,” a voice assistant will say as the TikTokers’ avatars enter the church.
Though the game is the first result to come up after searching “funeral” or “funeral home” on Roblox, users play a variety of different funeral games. Some games are dedicated to hosting funerals for real people like XXXTentacion and Prince Philip; others are elaborate funerals for fellow users who haven’t really passed.
These funerals are an extension of Roblox’s church role-play community. Many players use Roblox to express their religiosity, and there are numerous church groups on the platform for both role-play and genuine services. When a player decides to leave the church role-play, other users host a funeral for them as a farewell party.
Some users take it upon themselves to create funeral home games to host these funerals. They advertise their services on TikTok and accept clients and job applicants through Discord and other platforms. For at least one gamer, the funeral role-plays are practice for the real world. Others play with more ephemeral intentions.
Just killing time
Roblox is a gaming platform that hosts 24 million user-generated games or “experiences.” The platform, launched in 2008, surged in popularity during the onset of the pandemic with an increase of almost 10 million daily active users. Usage has continued to increase from 33.4 million daily active users after the initial boost in 2020 to 47.3 million in the third quarter of 2021.
“People come to Roblox around the world for entertainment, play, fashion, work, learning, and much more,” a Roblox spokesperson told the Daily Dot. “We provide an innovative platform for creation that gives people the freedom to create anything they can imagine, experience anything they want, and be anyone they want to be within our guidelines.”
One Roblox funeral home is the All People’s Funeral Home of Atlanta Georgia—not to be confused with the real-life All People’s Funeral Home located in Houston. The funeral home’s founder, Jamie Wooden is a 16-year-old from Atlanta who told the Daily Dot that he’s been playing Roblox for seven years and creating Roblox games for the past three or four.
Wooden created his church and funeral games for kids, typically between the ages of 10 and 12, who needed something to do in their spare time. Though Roblox has a chat function, the players communicate via the messaging platform Discord to plan before entering the role-playing games.
“We’ll communicate with each other on having church worship night, Bible study, and all of that,” Wooden told the Daily Dot. The players don’t just role-play going to church, however. Wooden created several games for children to be able to act out their dream careers.
Currently, Wooden works with 24 other 16-year-olds all based in Atlanta to run the organization. For all seven role-play games—funeral home, church, police, lawyer, doctor and EMS, firefighter, and nurse—there are 632 members, 256 of which are involved in the funeral role-play.
“They do this just to have fun and so they can get ready for the real world because some kids actually want to be pastors, funeral home directors, and police officers,” he said.
Wooden’s collection of Roblox games is similar in concept to Wannado City, an IRL indoor theme park in Florida. The park was a miniature city where children could earn money role-playing different careers, then save the cash or spend it around town. Wannado City closed in 2011, but Wooden has brought the concept into the new decade.
“We have different categories,” Wooden said. “A firefighter category, a funeral home, a hospital—just different job careers. It’s actually getting them ready for the real world and we role-play out the real thing that is going to be happening, like the paperwork and everything that you would have to do to work at these jobs.”
A lot of Wooden’s knowledge about these different careers comes from firsthand experience.
“I am a part of a real church and have family members that are preachers and funeral home directors,” Wooden said. For the jobs that he’s unfamiliar with, Wooden turns to Google, Wikipedia, and other sources to discover what being in those careers entails. He has also been taking notes on the career day presentations he’s gotten at school from a young age.
When Wooden started making Roblox games in middle school, he simply made whatever came to mind. He created his virtual Wannado City a few years ago, and he was inspired to add the funeral home role-play when the pandemic hit. Since he and his friends were bored and unable to see each other, they decided to make Roblox games for younger kids going through the same thing.
“We just felt like that is something that we needed to do and create for them so they’ll have something to do,” Wooden said. “We know the pandemic has been stressful on all of us, so we really know that it’s really difficult on them that they can’t be around their friends.”
Wooden and his friends offer guidance while allowing the younger kids to run the show.
“A lot of them have laptops and they’ll download this app called Roblox Studios and they can create different things,” Wooden said. “They’ll have the limo, the hearse; they’ll have horse and carriage; they’ll have plenty of things that they just can role-play out the whole funeral.”
Roblox allows players to do things like select music, cross the deceased’s arms, and open and close the casket. For the things Roblox does not allow them to do, like filing paperwork, the players will type in the chatbox. They write out actions like embalming and writing up death certificates.
The players also create funeral announcements for the deceased. Using a third-party website called PosterMyWall, “they’ll take screenshots of the character and they’ll actually make a picture like an [announcement] and they’ll make up a life story,” Wooden said.
Members of All People’s Funeral Home of Atlanta Georgia and other Roblox funeral homes post announcements to TikTok to publicize their upcoming funerals and encourage people to solicit their services or join their staff. These posts are sometimes met with criticism.
“We had a video that we had posted and a lot of people like ‘ah that’s weird that you all letting the kids playing this,’ but it’s actually the kinda thing that the kids want,” Wooden said.
While some may find it strange that children are hosting fake funerals online, it’s actually quite normal, according to Dr. Sachin Shah, a U.K. psychiatrist and founding member of the Gaming the Mind blog.
“Kids play, and they role-play, and they role-play a whole variety of scenarios,” Shah told the Daily Dot. “Death is just another part of the life span that kids do role-play.”
Shah notes that such play is so common that there’s a term for it that you are probably already familiar with, even if it only now just crossed your mind: “playing dead.”
“Roblox clearly has just given people tools to take it to the next level of having a very well kitted out funeral home instead of just having a cardboard box for a coffin, which maybe kids would do,” Shah explained.
Shah also said that role-playing death is actually beneficial, especially for kids facing death or bereavement.
“Play helps kids just practice for the real deal,” he said. “You might imagine that the kids on Roblox, having done all these funerals, are going to cope a whole lot better at a real funeral than for a kid who a funeral is a complete mystery, and they don’t know what to expect.”
Because of these benefits, child therapists are following their patients to virtual landscapes.
“It used to be that you’d give them dolls, you’d give them puppets, you’d give them a sandbox—but therapists are using things like bespoke software or Minecraft to play out these kinds of scenes,” Shah said. “That’s just going to be a sign of the times because kids now are very good at using computer games, so why not engage with them on that basis?”
Several of the children Wooden games with have told him that he’s helped take away their fear of death. One boy started playing with Wooden for that particular reason. The 10-year-old allegedly helps out his parents at their family-owned funeral home in New York.
The boy allegedly told Wooden that he has to fold blankets and that he gets scared when he has to see dead bodies with his father. Wooden assigned him the task of embalmment to get him comfortable with what he would have to do at home.
“That young boy, now he actually goes to his father and helps him fix up the little casket with the people in there,” Wooden said.
Beyond teaching them how to cope with death, Wooden’s funeral game has a large impact on the players’ lives.
“I know so many kids that have DMed me telling me ‘thank you for doing this, this is a job that I really wanted to do’ and ‘you really inspired me to do this job and inspired me to continue to love this job,’” Wooden said. “It makes me want to do even more for them.”
Working to the bone
They love playing so much that they were frustrated when a bug forced Roblox to shut down for almost four days starting Oct. 28, which is believed to be the longest outage in the platform’s history. The kids conduct themselves like professionals, so they were concerned about having to push back funerals and viewings and potentially upsetting grieving families.
“I just try to keep them boosted and I was like for the time being just get some more funerals and start planning,” Wooden said. He also offered them extra “role-play money” to get them to focus on planning upcoming funerals instead of the fact that they couldn’t play.
Role-play money is not the official currency of Roblox; in fact, it doesn’t exist in the game at all. The official currency of Roblox is Robux. Robux have to be purchased with real-world dollars, and prices range from 99 cents for 80 to $99.99 for 10,000. Role-play money is currency exclusive to Wooden’s staff that he invented to make the role-play experience more real.
“They get paid 500 RP a week so they can like go pay their light bill,” Wooden said. The kids also have to pay phone and car insurance bills, among others. “I’m actually getting them ready for the real world with the things that they have to do and getting paid. It’s actually a learning experience for them while they are having fun.”
In addition to offering greater compensation to cheer the kids up, Wooden also made the ultimate sacrifice: death. On Oct. 27, Wooden’s Roblox character, Dr. Jamie Green, died due to COVID-19 complications.
“I killed my Roblox character because I wanted them to do him right,” Wooden said. “This was when the shutdown came and I was like I’m just gonna kill my Roblox character and I want y’all to do this and I want y’all to plan his funeral to see if yall still got what y’all got.”
Wooden allowed the boy whose family owns a funeral home to handle his character’s services. He opened up Mourning Glory Funeral Home and held services for Green on Nov. 6. Wooden attended the service with a different avatar to maintain the integrity of the role-play.
Unfortunately, Green’s funeral did not go as well as planned because there were a lot of new members in attendance. However, the group has hosted seven funerals since then and is steadily improving.
“They are actually in more training we’ve been giving them, so they’re pretty much getting better at it now,” Wooden said. “They have improved a lot over those couple of weeks.”
Wooden is very proud of his staff members and their growth. “At the end of this year, in January, we will have a graduation for the ones that have really been putting up the work,” Wooden said. “I actually go log into their account and I’ll buy some Robux for them. I’ll buy them 400 Robux and I’ll tell them ‘Good job. You all can do this.’”
There are typically 10 graduates a year, but there will be 15 this year because so many new members have joined the role-play.
“This organization, it’s not going anywhere,” Wooden said. “It’s gonna get even bigger because as soon as [the members] turn 16, they can work with [Wooden and his friends] and they’ll help the other kids out with their projects.”
Wooden said he spends about five hours a day, five days a week working on the role-play. He could be doing many other things with his time now that the world is no longer under lockdown, but the role-plays are a labor of love.
“I just love those kids so much,” he said. “They are so funny. They bring me joy when I’m having a bad day and I bring them joy when they’re having a bad day. I love those kids with all my heart … I wouldn’t change my thing that I’m doing for the world.”
Read the rest of the Death on the internet series