General Question

Hobbes's avatar

Is there an alternative to death in video games?

Asked by Hobbes (7355points) August 9th, 2008

Death is the most commonly used punishment/incentive against failure in video games. However, “death” is usually nothing of the sort – it’s simply a temporary inconvenience, and a frustrating one at that, as it requires tedious repetition of parts of a level that have already been beaten to get back to the point at which you died.

Some video games have made the constant respawning more plausible (In Planescape: Torment, for example, your character is immortal and the story centers around your quest to die), and some have circumvented the need entirely (in a new game, Braid, you can simply rewind time to a few seconds before your “death”). Are there any other possibilities or alternatives to death that you folks can think of?

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25 Answers

arnbev959's avatar

less lethal weapons?

ladytmerie's avatar

A spanking? Seriously though, I always die on almost every game I play and it dosent bother me. Interesting question.

El_Cadejo's avatar

its been a while since i played it, but werent you a clone in Portal.So when you died, they just got another clone.

crunchaweezy's avatar

Because it’s realistic.

megalongcat's avatar

Obscure. When one character dies, it stays dead for the rest of the game. Just like real life.

PupnTaco's avatar

Collecting every yellow coin?

Hobbes's avatar

@crunchaweezy – but that’s part of the point: it’s not. Death in games can’t be realistic, because if it was, the console would permanently turn off every time you died. Instead, it’s just a setback, an annoyance.

crunchaweezy's avatar

Would you rather it shut off everytime you die?

Hobbes's avatar

What? No. I’m just pointing out that it’s not realistic, not saying that it should do that. I’m wondering if there’s some other way to give the game challenge besides threatening a forced repeat of the level, usually defined in game-fluff as death.

Lightlyseared's avatar

anything they replaced it with would also be a set back and annoyance too.

winblowzxp's avatar

How about eternal life…

delirium's avatar

a game in a dream. If you die, you wake up.
Everyone dreams of dying, no one dreams of being dead. (- Gaiman)

Skyrail's avatar

Once you die you have to go out and buy the game again which has a seperate, and new, character on it. Leading on from the real life replication scenario.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@delirium Nights for the sega dreamcast was like that.

cheebdragon's avatar

I don’t like games where the character can die…...but I don’t have a problem with other people wanting to play them, to each his (or her) own, I just won’t be buying them for myself.

gailcalled's avatar

Sinking into a comatose stupor, and waiting to be kissed by the prince in 100 years or so?

XCNuse's avatar

it’s the same in movies and books, once a character dies, it is because they are no longer needed for the plot, any more use of them would become an inconvenience and possibly just make it more confusing such as “well.. what about so and so?”

In other words, it’s the easy way of removing someone from a story to save you the hassle of questioning it and becoming frustrated.

Lovelocke's avatar

There are thousands of titles that don’t use death as a penalty: Look at the scores of puzzle games, racing games, arcade/reflex style games (Shooting Gallery titles as old as Duck Hunt and as recent as Police Trainer/Dance Dance Revolution). The musical titles like Para Para Paradise, Guitar Freaks, Guitar Hero, Rock Band and so on. Nintendo titles like Wario Ware, Wii Sports, Wii Fit and so on.

There’s a few dozen games right there pulled out of the hat. We can go even more in depth and get to the PC side of things, with games like Sim City, Diner Dash, Chess and so on.

What bugs me about this arguement and any arguement leaning towards “gentler games” is that they’re all around you all of the time, but if you are only playing games where you personally die or the goal is to kill others, then chances are you put the cash down and the time into it because you found the concept interesting… and I believe that’s what it comes down to: How far can you go in a virtual game to deal with virtual consequences that you are unwilling/unable to do/take in real life.

Many millions of people out there played Grand Theft Auto, sure… but many millions more played Super Mario Brothers. “Death” is a consequence of both titles, but one allows you to steal cars, murder entire populations and have war declared on you: While the other requires you to wiggle a wiimote, shoot stars at the screen and soar through a galaxy via star-portals.

Whichever you choose, I feel, is up to you. Me? I love Mario, but I also love super violent video games just because I find them kind of comical. Ever see bodily mutilation in some of the older Mortal Kombat titles? It’s like, while a person explodes, 12–15 legs will fly out of the blood geyser: Just for effect.

Hobbes's avatar

@Lovelocke – I’m not making an argument for “gentler” games. I don’t have a problem with death per se, I just think it’s generally ineffective as a penalty, and that what is called death in the average FPS is nothing of the sort.

I hadn’t thought of the multitude of Puzzle games. You’re right: many don’t use death. But I can’t think of a platformer, adventure game, or FPS that doesn’t use “death” as the penalty for failure.

Skyrail's avatar

Garry’s Mod for Half Life 2 isn’t centered around death/killing/whatever but more of utilising the game engine to build. Although death is a down side if you do get killed ;)

ninjaxmarc's avatar

It’s not death in a game but a 2nd chance.

TheDuce's avatar

I am not sure what you are looking for in this. Your complaint seems to be the mechanic forcing you to replay a level if you didn’t beat it—but isn’t that the point of a game? Say you failed to complete the objective in a level, and the game simply said, “Oh, you didn’t complete the task? That’s cool. Go ahead anyway,” There would be absolutely no challenge in a game like that.

If you think of it as an ineffective penalty, then that is simply the game mode you are playing. Most FPS nowadays have “Death Match” modes where two set teams fight each other with a set number of players. If a player dies, he is dead until the next round begins—the only re spawn is when what is essentially a new game begins. There is also the Fire Emblem series where death is treated as death, and if a character dies then they are gone for the rest of the game. I feel those are both examples of games where death has a significant consequence.

Death is simply the easiest consequence to implement in a game. When someone’s health reaches zero, they die: nice try, play again. Even if they didn’t “die” they still failed the level and would have to attempt it again.

DThorn's avatar

Well an alternative could be something simple like being penalized by reduced stats or power for a short period of time in exchange for life again. Pick death out right would warp you back to a save point but you’d get an aliment such as “Giver upper!” or something funny like that. Some games take different routes in Smith’s Thief: Deadly Shadows, protagonist Garrett doesn’t die the first time he gets caught by city guards; instead, he wakes up in jail (a concept mimicked in Starbreeze Studios’ Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay)—transforming potential failure into a dramatic and fun story event with its own opportunities. Black Isle Studios’ 1999 RPG Planescape: Torment famously required its main character to die in order to solve puzzles.

But sometimes you get games such as Bioshock or MMO’s where dying isn’t really anything bad, nothing is lost or gained, I’m scared that sooner or later game developers will start making eveything easier surrounding deaths. With no deaths there’s not much of a challenge. What a sad day that’d be.

Berserker's avatar

Video games have evolved so much since they got out of their ’‘been there done that’’ strut that started with Mario and wouldn’t leave until the end of the nineties that, it barely matters now. Or does it? As you say, dying in a game is the easiest way to portray failure, (which a game requires as an element to define itself) that death itself as a concept in video games are something else entirely.
In Dante’s Inferno, you steal death’s scythe (after killing him no less) and you go fight in Hell to go kick Satan’s ass. Death hardly seems much a concern at that point…

So to answer your question…let’s take some random game, Zookepper. It’s a block puzzle game where you, the zookeeper, must make sure the animals behave and don’t break loose and wreak havoc. When you ’‘fail’’, you see a small scene where your boss fires you. I always thought that was sad and funny at the same time.

In WTF (Work Time Fun) while you can’t actually be ’‘game over’’, if you loose a minigame, you just go back with your tail between your legs, and try again. You never die, you just don’t get the full rewards offered by whatever minigame you were playing.

Say in the Street Fighter games…there is a lot of story in these, and again, when death comes up as a concept, it’s usually part of a scenario rather than gameplay result…so if you were fighting a character that’s important in your character’s storyline and you loose, and he/she wanted to kill you, we can assume that they did. However and otherwise, you don’t ’‘die’’ in Street Fighter when you loose, you’re just out of the tournament.

The same can be said of sports, wrestling and racing games. You get disqualified and all, but unless it’s Carmageddon, nobody dies.

A lot of older games actually have alternatives to death, (including games that regular death would be more logical to have than anything else, and not just puzzlers and such) especially back when the medium was aimed at a younger audience, but I’m old and my heart is sick, and tired, and I will fight no more!

I mean, I just don’t remember any specifics.

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