How Endless Respawns Can Make Death In Games Feel Meaningless

As the week nears its conclusion, it’s time for another installment in Worth Reading, our regular roundup of the best video game writing from the last week or so.

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I have such mixed emotions about Metal Gear Solid—I’m a weirdo who prefers the first and third game over the second and fourth. And while I may regularly take issue with Hideo Kojima’s creative decisions, there’s no denying how wonderfully unique Metal Gear has been. The codec screen is one such oddity, a storytelling mechanism that’s not quite a cutscene. Stephen Beirne doesn’t appreciate how the codec has been slowly moved out of Metal Gear, and though memories of endless codec screens aren’t my fondest, it wouldn’t be Metal Gear without them.

Codec calls have a special place within this structure as they represent the innermost sanctuary of Snake, our character. A codec call occurs on its own menu screen separate to the ‘action’ of the outer gameworld, which, as we might normally view it, would be the ‘real’ gameworld. It accentuates the values of the ‘real’ gameworld with respect to how Snake moves through and lives in the latter: shyly, diligently and safely. If you playMGS the way it suggests it should be played, you probably move Snake around coyly, gathering up information about the level and your enemies while guarding your position and minimizing your presence. You plan your route. You wait patiently.

Snake is a very patient person, which explains why he’s willing to keep his gun readied while the next boss character postures and flourishes, and only fires when it’s clear their monologue is complete. It also explains why the MGS games have so many long, long cutscenes: because Snake is patient, and if you’re identifying with Snake and you enjoy Snake, you might want to be patient too.

OK, so technically you can’t “read” this one, but it brings up such an interesting point that I wanted to highlight it here anyway. Heather Alexandra argues games with persistent game worlds, especially ones structured on endless warfare, may psychologically burn out players precisely because there’s really no endgoal. In Planetside 2, war never ends, and players endlessly respawn because that’s it goes. But if there’s no endstate, does death matter? Consequence is a tool, and while one “dies” in Planetside 2, it makes no real difference.

In Planetside 2, there are no matches, no base units of time that represent a start or start to conflict. There are always battles taking place in a consistent game space. The occupation of outposts will change from faction to faction, but this doesn’t signal an end to anything because there is no end. Opposing factions can’t really be wiped out because players can’t really die.

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Oh, And This Other Stuff

  • Bea Malsky argued Kim Kardashian’s game helps us understand different kinds of labor.
  • Cameron Kunzelman pointed out the difference between “story loot” and “gameplay loot.”
  • Katherine Cross investigated what it takes to make a video game city feel alive.
  • Gregory Avery-Weir tried to explain what makes Neko Astume so (passively) appealing.
  • Laura Hudson explored what it’s like when women become part of competitive pinball.
  • Mike Williams found out why mechanical keyboards are making a big comeback.
  • Patrick Lee asked the big question: are the people in Pokemon actually eating Pokemon?!
  • Cecilia D’Anastasio interviewed black anime fans to learn more about race in America.

You can reach the author of this post at or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.

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