Dying in games? Is it really necessary?
In real life, dying is unavoidable and the final straw. But lately, I was wondering, is it really necessary for our game characters to die?
Dying in real life is obviously the last event you’ll take part in. But when gaming, I find it pretty damn infuriating. For example, in World of Warcraft, your death just means that you have to spend some time trekking back to the point where you died. Not just this, your game avatar is also temporarily weakened. I find this factor to be an inconvenience.
Why isn’t dying in a game as final as it is in the real life? To state Blizzard’s point of view, “If in-game death was final, gamers would stop coughing up their monthly subscription.” The exciting in-game economy depends on a certain amount on death and regeneration: a time when your avatar comes back to life when your weapons are damaged and need repairing, to top it off you pay a fee to love.
Games in general, be it in games or in real life, require you to leave the field of play, for structural and narrative reasons. In a children’s’ playground, for example, teammates have to be eliminated to determine the winner before the end of the break. In most arcade games, your skill determines how long you can play before feeding the machine with more cash. Death puts a limit on time on those games, just as it does in life. In other games, “dying” means you have to go back to the beginning of a level and struggle your way through it again. Hence, death becomes an indication that you’ve not reached a specific skill set.
But honestly, where’s the fun in endlessly replaying a level over and over? Do we have to die to give the game meaning?
But is the death of your character the right way to give a game meaning?
We have all watched movies where the hero dies again and again. The tension in a movie almost always comes from beating up a hero so hard that he almost dies and then suddenly he comes to live! In movies, death is considered to be the climax. Perhaps the difference between gaming and film or television is how we consume them. TV and film are genres where we can’t affect the outcome. Games, however, challenge us directly by setting goals, and often one of those goals is to avoid being killed.
There are bigger questions, of course. In real life, death is more than a hindrance. Should games reflect real life? Or should we redefine the concept of “dying” in games? Or are there bigger lessons to be learned from games?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.