“Can it be that a man can disappear from life and live another time?”–Marty Robbins.

On Freshly Pressed yesterday, there was a good post from Game Over, You Suck with Chris Kodoku about player character death in video games.  It’s about the paradox of how, since the player can always come back after failing, s/he’s not really that great.  It’s a great critique, and something most gamers don’t often think about.  Give it a read.

This is part of what makes the game Planescape: Torment so awesome.  It messes with this mechanic in a really ingenious way, to make the game very unique, and also a commentary on the way player character death is handled in so many games.

I used to joke about how, if they really wanted to make a game “realistic”, you’d get one chance to play it, and when your character died, that would be it–you could never play again.  Wouldn’t be too popular with players, though.

The other alternative, I guess, is the Deus Ex approach, where just because you failed at one thing doesn’t mean the game ends; you can still get chances to recover.  (Your character still could die in Deus Ex, though.)

There was a great article in the satirical online paper The Onion about this years ago.  It involved Solid Snake, the hero of the Metal Gear Solid games, wondering why he is always forced to “continue”.  It’s pretty funny, but again, it also points out how immersion-wrecking this mechanic is when you really think about it.

It’s funny; I never feel any guilt starting over from a save in a game like Doom 3 after Doomguy has met an untimely end.  I never seriously thought about this issue before in those kinds of games.  But I do feel some guilt for starting over in sports video games when I lose a play-off game or something.  That feels like cheating to me, whereas the restart in action games feels natural.


  1. You always seem capable of taking a much talked-over issue and adding an interesting commentary to it. Also, I am a BIG fan of Solid Snake and his various adventures, and appreciate the reference to that article. I always get a kick out of the Onion.

    Thanks for adding your perspective to the discussion.

    1. I have only completed one MGS game–the one on the original PlayStation–but I really enjoyed it. I’ve been trying to play “Substance” recently, but for some reason I’m much worse at it than I was at the other one. I think I’ve lost the knack for stealth games, somehow.

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