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Permanent death in video games

It is a recurring argument that video game cheapens the death of characters due to its replayable nature. I remember watching the Youtube video of the cutscene of the major supporting character’s death from GTA4, and read the comment which jokingly said that the main character should have taken the bullet because he would have revived at the hospital. Death in video games are often avoidable, or a penalty. In many cases, dead characters can be revived with a special mean.

But there are games that make deaths significant through several means. The most recurring example would be the story branch, where a character’s death decides the story route the gamer can take. A death of a character will consolidate the plot into certain route, so the gamer will have to be wary of the consequences.

There are other games with different approach to make deaths meaningful.

For example, the death in XCOM means that your effort and investment on a soldier have been wasted, and this becomes financial and strategic setback. The elite soldier takes series of combat experiences and upgrades, and they cannot be mass produced. In addition to this, there is no way to revive the soldier so the gamer have to be extremely careful with the characters.

In Fire Emblem, each character is given unique personality and look, plus unique stats. Similar to XCOM, the death of a character is a strategic trouble, but Fire Emblem goes one step further by creating emotional attachment. The characters become friends with each other, and in some games get married. They may have a child, who fight along with them in the battle. In this case, the death of a character is more than a casualty – it’s a tragedy. Your one mistake can cause the death of someone’s friend/lover/parent. After you get to know each character, their death feels heavier.

I am wondering if there are other cases of significant deaths in games. Are the deaths considered mere penalty, or emotional experience? I think this could be a good study of human psychology regarding how we treat deaths

  • One should also include the reasoning behind chaperoning death. Games have always been a safe place to explore everyday problems, teaching strategy and giving people experience outside of tall world consequences and life and death situations. This is a good thing but so is making death mean something when games start having so many extra lives to no consequences, death actually has become a game mechanic more than the definitive punishment of starting the game over that it used to. – fchery 6 years ago
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  • In Heavy Rain you play as 4 different characters, who are all capable of dying and staying dead. It is possible to complete the game with not a single character alive, which was just refreshing if nothing else and it does give the characters greater significance to the story. There is game mode introduced in the Arkham games (I can't remember if it was City or Origins) which can be unlocked where you can play through the storyline with only one life. This is such a challenge and I'm sure other games have similar features, too. I really like how Shadow of Mordor dealt with character deaths and how it integrates the many deaths the player will inevitably have into the gameplay. The Nemesis system means that certain orc captains will remember you after they've killed you and they will gain in power when they do. It's a really clever system that will definitely be implemented in future games. – Jamie 6 years ago
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  • An excellent example would also be Mass Effect. At one point in the first game, you have to decide which of your team mates has to die and the decision means consequences, some unforeseen. What makes this a good example is because Mass Effect is a series that is based entirely off your own choices. – SpectreWriter 6 years ago
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  • It might be good to consider how some games attempt to weave in player deaths with the storyline, such as Bioshock: Infinite. In Infinite when you die there is no breaking of the third wall; you don't go to a different screen, but rather a different part of the game that effectively sends you back in time to a certain point (which actually makes sense with the plot later on). While it's really just the same as reloading from a save point, I appreciated that they made an attempt to explain how you can die and yet just keep coming back. – OddballGentleman 6 years ago
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  • To this day people feel heartbroken over the death of Aerith Gainsborough from Final Fantasy VII and are still trying to find a way to bring her back to life. It would be very interesting to see more games like this where major characters purposefully die and cannot be brought back by expected means like a phoenix down. Besides these one can also look at permadeath in Diablo 3 where dying not only makes lose all progress but you lose possibly weeks to months of effort to level your character. It would be good to look at these two sides of permadeath games and see why they are implemented story and gameplay wise. – tylerjt 6 years ago
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  • The new game Until Dawn would be a brilliant example of exploring the consequences of permanent character death. There are plenty of chances to kill off characters that have significant impacts on the rest of the game. It really puts pressure on your actions, and forces you to think far more carefully before you make each decision. It shows the full repercussions of character deaths, not only on the story, but on the characters as well - you can compare and contrast what happens depending on who dies and who lives. It creates a far more real experience that, I believe. – averywilliams 6 years ago
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  • Also, State of Decay possess an interesting option when it comes to the death of their characters. As you can continually change what character you are playing as at anytime, when who you are dies they stay dead and you continue on as a different character. But the character that died, might have had a certain skill or trait that was helpful to the group's survival and might change the way you play your game. – BlueJayy 6 years ago
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