Death. It’s a problem as old as life itself, probably because they’re opposing sides of the same coin. In gaming, death is just part of the experience. You fail, you die. It’s part of gaming. So why does it drive me crazy? Why do I hate it so much? Let’s look at death in gaming from a mechanic standpoint.

Death is the most unnatural part of any game. It usually does one of the three things:

  1. Force you to reload from an earlier part or restart a level
  2. Lose XP, gear or whatever and pick up close to where you left off
  3. End the game

I’m going to tackle each of these in turn, and point out my position on the subject, hopefully to shed light on why I think death in gaming is an outdated feature.

I detest replaying content, especially more than once. If I’m forced to retread an area in a game because I died, I’m not enjoying myself. A level/map/enemy encounter can only truly be new, fun and immersive once – doing it a second time is rote. Doing it four or five times is torture.

Losing something I treasure (XP, gold, what have you) can be frustrating as well, but it’s not as bad. What is bad is when you get back to where you died only to find that whatever puzzle/enemy/trap killed you has reset and you have to do it from the beginning again (see above for my take re: repeating content).

Permadeath is a common Rogue-like game feature and is the least broken-feeling of all results to dying in a game. I’m not the biggest permadeath fan – after all, I don’t want to lose everything I worked for – but it’s the most natural mechanic for death.

I understand the reason for death in games. If there’s no penalty for failure, there’s no pride in success. Still, though, there has to be a better way to implement it. One death success story for me (which sounds epically wrong) is Super Meat Boy. SMB respawns you instantly, often while chunks from your inevitably bloody death have yet to hit the ground. This makes death seem painless and encourages you to keep going and generate a rhythm. Borderlands 2 was also relatively good with its death mechanic; you had to retrace your steps and you lost money, but it was done so smoothly that it was easy to overlook. Another excellent example is the Portal series. Dying was almost part and parcel with solving the puzzles, so Valve made it a seamless process.

Three things a game can do to alleviate the pain of death are:

  1. Do not use checkpoint saves. There’s no excuse for it anymore. Let us save anywhere
  2. Do not force the player to further face consequences for death. Having to go back and face whatever killed us again should be punishment enough
  3. For the love of God, do not throw us to a loading screen if you don’t have to. I hate loading screens

Does anyone else think dying in games needs overhauled? Let us know in the comments here.

Alphasim out.