Home Editorial If at first you don’t succeed, die, die again…

What is our purpose in life? Why are we so afraid of dying? These are the type of questions that have plagued the human race every single day since the origin of human life.

In our world, art serves as a mirror, or lens, through which we can examine difficult and complicated questions such as these. For me, games fall under this category as an artistic medium. Like Xiant, I also do not wish to address the age-old debate of “Games as Art” now. Rather, my proposal is that games help us reflect on what it means to live and die.

Remember when you first jumped into an endless abyss in Super Mario?  Or had your Pacman triple-teamed to inescapable demise? What about when you got slaughtered round after round in a game of Counter-strike against your friends? And when those despicable roofers finally nail you to the ground after a 30-second chase?

Dying in games is of course, frustrating. It means you have to wait while twiddling your thumbs before you can ‘resurrect’ and rejoin the action, often losing valuable resources and time in the process. All that time you spent in that dungeon mining for gold and rare materials go ‘poof’ (especially if you’re playing hardcore mode in certain games) in the blink of an eye.

Games penalize deaths in various ways, some harsher than others. In Super Mario, you just lose a life, no big deal (unless that was your last life, in which case it’s GG). In Assassin’s Creed, you lose valuable time respawning when you could be padding your score with more kills and stuns.

The type of game you’re in also affects the value of each life you possess. In Counter-strike, if you’re playing in a pub server and die, nobody would bat an eyelid (including you). If you’re in an International tournament with tens of thousands of dollars on the line, however, you might react a little differently.

But let’s brush aside all those factors for the time being. Say you’ve just started a game of Assassin’s Creed, playing online against a bunch of randoms, with not much on the line (except maybe pride). Certainly you’d probably die multiple times within that one game (if you don’t, I salute you, as even I have yet been able to claim the ‘untouchable’ challenge), but do you value each death the same way? Why is it that we’re more afraid dying in some games/situations over others? Are some deaths ‘worth’ more than others?

Of course some deaths are worth more than others, you say. Getting a kill and a stun per death is obviously much more productive than using a life with no gain in points whatsoever (though I’d argue even a death with no points scored is not completely worthless). It doesn’t take Einstein to figure that out (actually, if I write anything that does take Einstein to figure out, I probably wouldn’t be writing here in the first place).

What I’m trying to say is that this simple piece of logic clearly also applies to the game we’ve been playing since we were born ― life. Every day we are alive is a life. Every activity we pursue is a life. These ‘lives’ are limited, and together they make up every individual’s lifetime. To make the most of our life, we must try to ensure that we are as productive as possible with the time we are blessed with and with each opportunity we stumble across (i.e. getting a kill and a stun every day instead of just getting killed*) Because at the end of the day, we’re all playing ‘hardcore’ mode ― with only one life.

* FC2000 and Top Tier Tactics do not take any responsibility, legal or otherwise, for dangerous or otherwise violent actions resulting in injury or death. Any legal claims and compensation can be directed at Ubisoft Group Inc. and all trademarks of the Assassin’s Creed brand.

27 replies to this post
  1. A philosophical argument to start many a quarrel indeed. Well said. One of the things games have against them, I think, is the _public_ perception of death as less important. The idea of “respawning” is a dangerous one for real life troops in combat with real bullets, where over-aggressive behavior leads to injury or fatality. And even in competitive play, where a death can cost thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands, of dollars, is still nothing compared to the loss of any human life. This reduction of, no better word comes to mind, value on death is something that needs to be wrestled with within the medium while still allowing it to entertain, as other art forms do.

    And when someone is judged not only how they lived but how they died, when do you draw the in line game on sacrifice? But I suppose that’s a topic for another article.

  2. As someone who played Diablo 2 on hardcore (until the whole TPPK thing became prevalent), I certainly always preferred death to feel as daunting as possible in games.

    Having an actual sense of dread going down a flight of stairs is a great rush, as is making it out by the skin of one’s teeth. AvP also had a hardcore mode, but I was too terrified in normal mode to make it terribly far.

  3. @Guy923: Thanks!

    Personally, I find one of the most death-dreading moments in CS. Although I’ve never played competitively, even in a casual game, when it gets down to something like a 1v1 situation, the suspense is incredibly thrilling. The way you peek around corners slowly, checking blind spots, constantly looking behind you… when the whole round depends on you and you only, and one mistake would be the difference between the glory of victory or the jaws of defeat…

    • Yep, then right then I pop around the corner with a TMP and empty all 30 shots into your head. COUNTER-TERRORISTS WIN

      • Lol yes because you’re so sadistic that you would actually empty the last 28 bullets into my splattered brains all over the ground after the first 2 bullets have already blown my head apart.

  4. All I am gonna say is that dying is less punishing in games than it used to be. Well for the most part anyways.

      • But he does have a point.
        Look at retro games like…
        not pacman, because that would be too obvious.

        Take Max Payne, The Punisher, or whatever shooters you may have played in you ninja-y childhood.

        You don’t plan ahead, run right in, get shot, die, and have to restart at the checkpoint 15 minutes ago.
        That is also why quicksave and -load was bound to an accessible key in the standard layout.

        Then take CoD. You storm right in, may not even die because tactics are lame, and restart at a checkpoint 5 minutes ago at max, if there’s a sequence like the tank thingy in MW

      • I have to say though, one of the most frustrating dying situations I’ve encountered in recent times has to be the Tank Mission in AC:B. I guess it wasn’t really dying as I wanted the full-sync, but everytime I failed I was so pissed and that sense of fear when you’re trying to dodge every single shot was pretty intense. In the end though, after scouring through hours of forums and walkthroughs, I finally managed to ‘cheap’ my way into the win =D.

      • Oh brother…
        That mission was just terrible.

        I mean, the first minutes are easy going, you can just shoot or run over whatever you run across as you continously drive forward.

        Then, all of a sudden, there are too many of them to shoot before they get a shot at you, and the bicycle-powered tank can’t get back behind the rocks fast enough.

        Because if you get tiny bullet holes in your solid wood tank more than some times, you will explode. Remember that.

      • Worst moment for me was rising on top of the large boat in farcry 1. There’s a machine gun toting baddie on a helicopter, you have to hit him, three snipers whose one bullet can take you out on the piles of metal to your right and four machine gun guys to your left. One mistake and any of them can take you out. Great game tho.

  5. The worst is when death is implicitly encouraged by game mechanics. Look at Dead Space: if you deliberately rush into a fight, claw through it, and let the last enemy kill you, then you’ll be retrying the fight with a foreknowledge of where the enemies will spawn. You’ll probably be able to clear the fight with more health and ammo intact than if you hadn’t died. There isn’t any way to lose, and how could there be? It’s not like it would be fun to start the entire thing over. This is the real thing that’s wrong with linear game design.

    • Wasn’t there a jrpg of some sort a while back, Baroque or something like that, where dying literally moved the story forward?

    • Yes I hate how so many games nowadays expect players to learn from trial and error. In my opinion, a game should be designed in such a way that the player can figure out how to beat the game (provided they’re smart/skilled enough) on the 1st run through without having to die/fail at any point in between (scripted ‘fake’ deaths/losing battles aside).

    • Hardcore mode much?

      BTW, am I informed right there will be hardcore pvp in D3? What should that be? Leveling your character up painfully, then going into BGs, where both sides will just peacefully walk to each other’s flag because they don’t dare risking death?

      There is a game called You Only Live Once, where there’s literally one life only. Death is permanent.
      I don’t think that permanent death is a good mechanic though, since that would just discourage players from trying new stuff or going badly prepared.
      Still, there has to be some penalty other than just magically waking up 2 rooms behind and having to run through them. I think WoW is doing it right.

    • PS3 ftw! Still trying to convince WiNG to get one, especially with the recent Sony price drop. Maybe you guys should help me ‘persuade’ him ;).

      ACB players, feel free to add me “FC2000au”, but be warned: I’m no uber hax pro master assassin, unlike our famed T3 founder =P.

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