'You Are Dead. Continue?': The Future of Death in Games

Illustration for article titled 'You Are Dead. Continue?': The Future of Death in Games

There's a very interesting article over at Eludamos, one of the open-access academic journals that's done a nice job of getting fascinating articles in each issue; this volume is no exception, and the article I found particularly thought provoking is on the issue of death in narrative-driven games. Jason Tocci isn't arguing that the death mechanic has no place in games, but it's a cop out for many narrative-driven games — and can create frustrating gaming experiences for end users. This is, in Tocci's view, a hold over from earlier design decisions when games were more limited in what they could do:

The way that videogames have dealt with failure, primarily through protagonist death and trial-and-error, has generally been more concerned with games as rule sets than with games as narratives. As a result, games which appear to tell stories often become incoherent, bringing narrative progression to a halt, eliciting frustration with gameplay rather than engagement with fiction. Despite what some may charge, however, this is not an inherent bias of the medium. The die-and-retry approach is a shortcut in game design, a holdover from an era when games were more limited in their ability to tell stories. This convention now imposes an artificial limitation, even as alternative methods of dealing with failure have been exercised in some games. This argument should not be taken to suggest that all games ought to be narrative-oriented games, that trial-and-error has no place in modern videogames, or that all games should be so concerned with preserving an illusion of boundless choices .... This article simply seeks to argue that universal models of game enjoyment that would lump such a game in with Tetris fail to acknowledge that such games ultimately offer different appeals.


I don't agree with all of his points, but it's certainly a thought provoking article (if lengthier than the usual posted on Kotaku). The design-related conversation over the role of death in games is one worth having, and this is one of the more well-written pieces I've read on the issue. Eladumos in general is worth having bookmarked — it's a young journal, but a solid one. “You Are Dead. Continue?”: Conflicts and Complements in Game Rules and Fiction [Eludamos]


I think the article is down - the page just times out for me.

So, without reading the whole article, I'll just say that, conceptually, I understand where he's coming from. It makes a lot of sense to not want to be interrupted by deaths that aren't supposed to occur in the storyline. Yeah, most stories, as others here pointed out, in games tend to be told during cutscenes, leaving the gameplay alone to be played. Hopefully that's a trend that changes soon. I just don't think people are taking full advantage of the game medium if they have to roll back on film techniques and videos to tell the story. Honestly, I'm blanking on ideas for ways to smooth over deaths in games, but I realize that if there were some way to completely fail a life-or-death task without using standard die/re-spawn mechanics or without erasing the player's save file, then that would be ideal.

Having things cover up your deaths like in Prince of Persia sound like the right direction, at least.