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A Minor Nuisance: Player Death in Video Games


Death is one of the greatest inevitabilities is video gaming, along with collecting things and teabagging enemies (kids, don’t ask your parents. They won’t know anyway). You’ll make a wrong step, jump at the wrong time, pop your head out too long, forget how long it takes for a grenade to explode in your hands, whatever it may be. That wonderful streak of being alive comes to a glorious or ignoble end as your view jumps to the sky and the screen gets covered in red… but not to fear! Your mission isn’t truly over! An act of God, regeneration pod or spawn point will bring you right back to where you were, maybe two minutes behind where you were at, and you just continue on as if nothing ever happened.

Personally, I’ve been ticked off when people say how easy games have gotten over the past year. I play all the COD games on Veteran, and I can tell you that getting those achievements downed by two bullets is NOT easy. But its more a difficulty of getting through specific parts, because I have incredibly good aim and I’ve usually just hit a checkpoint moments before the hard parts. I just start again, trying different ways of working my way through walls of enemies, usually with gratuitous amounts of ordinance. Every time I get full health, full ammunition and a safe place to start again. There just isn’t a reason to fear death anymore.


At least dying can be inspirational to the player

For all you youngsters who fail to realize how this happened to appear in video games, Grandpa Guinness is gonna tell you a story…hey get back here! Following the North American Video Game Crash of 1983 came the third generation of consoles, also known as the 8-Bit Era. The NES proved that games could be more impressive than Asteroids and Pac-Man, and developers followed suit. Games like Final Fantasy, Super Mario Bros and Metal Gear premiered during this generation, and before the days of saving games (or graphics mattering more than gameplay, stupid trends), players would have to rely on overly complicated, long password systems or have to play a game straight through (type “Metroid Speedruns” into YouTube. Speedruns, by the way, developed because of those old games! A fun fact to take to school with you!)


Seriously, that was a real password in the day

With the advent of battery saves and memory cards came longer titles and less to worry about when a player met their untimely but predictable deaths. This continued all the way to our current, but soon to be overtaken, seventh generation of 360, PS3 and Wii. We as gamers have been desensitized to death in video games, because aside from a few minutes of progress (and possibly a blog rant about “glitches”), we have too many safeguards to negate the penalties: save points, checkpoints, save anywhere features, autosave, and sometimes even in-game reasons for death to not affect the progress of the player. This is a video game, not Super Overly-Protective Parent 3!

This is not to say saving your game should be done away with. RPGs take hours to complete, sometimes you feel off your game, and even the most hardcore gamers who run out of Dew need to sleep. The problem is that death is ultimately inconsequential in a video game unless it occurs in a cutscene (we’re looking at you, Aeris). Gone are the days of lives and extra continues, but there’s no reason that dying in a game shouldn’t matter.

XCOM Memorial

Now with Facebook Support!

It’s time to start making changes to how death effects the game in a big way, without bringing back the terrors of the past. And unlike some other bloggers, I can speak with an English accent offer suggestions. And they have already been in great games.

Take for example the incredibly fun XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Any time a soldier is killed in the field, that’s it. They don’t come back, they get an entry on the memorial wall (its very pretty). This doesn’t end the game, but it doesn’t reward you for a tactically unsound call: it teaches you that running into a monster with Freddy Krueger claws is stupid when you have cover, a laser rifle and an extra grenade. Nor should you let Chrysalids survive long enough to get to you. Just ask the reanimated corpse of a few Rookies who become Chrysalids the next turn if that was a smart call. This game makes you improve your tactics, which is invaluable in a strategy game.

Diablo II

Damn skeletons…

Another change should be the loss of minor items or experience. Diablo has always done this, usually in the form of Gold or Item Durability, but Fable took it a step further by making you lose experience. Granted, you would only lose unspent experience, but when you’re saving up for a fourth level spell, the fear of losing a few thousand experience points makes you rethink attacking a hoard of bad guys when you have less than 20% of your health bar.

Ultimately this article won’t change the industry. As much as players complain about the ease of the games they buy, they’ll complain about the difficulty more. If they can’t run into a crowd and slay everything, taking minimal damage in the process, a message board somewhere will light up because of it. As for me, I’ll be singing the praises of XCOM’s Ironman game option and waiting for the day other gamers appreciate the challenge that it brings.

XCOM Soldier

Anything else that would make death a painful (but fair) event to try avoiding? Drop a comment and tell us about it!


About RedGuinness

Andrew Shortall (RedGuinness) is the Writer, Editor, Administrator and founder of Stay-At-Home Gaming. He also suffers from sleepless nights, summer new release withdrawals and trying to behave himself in front of his new nephew.

One comment on “A Minor Nuisance: Player Death in Video Games

  1. Pingback: Legendary Veteran of 1999: The Argument for Higher Difficulty Gameplay | Stay-At-Home Gaming

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