The lights are on
There is no shortage of death in video games. You witness myriad enemies succumb to defeat, and the good guys fall as well. In a well-written narrative, the loss of a close ally or vulnerable friend elicits emotions not commonly found in other media. In rare cases, developers have even forced you to die vicariously through the protagonist. As the player, it’s disconcerting when you realize that you have no control over the lives of your characters or comrades. Being the governor of a game’s story, the developer decides who lives and who dies.When the developer hands that responsibility over to the player though, the response is something entirely different. Gone is the helpless feeling that comes from having no control. You have the power to prevent the deaths of your beloved characters, and when they’re gone - it’s permanent. By using permanent death, games impart something unique: guilt.In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, this mechanic influences every decision you make. If you are the driver, then permadeath is the person in the back seat with a gun to your head. From simple move commands to global satellite positioning, every choice carries weight due to the extreme consequences. Permadeath is a formula that, when done right, succeeds in creating a suspenseful atmosphere in numerous games. Progression And The Brick Wall In Its WayNot only is losing a soldier in XCOM emotionally draining, but it’s a tactical setback as well. You pour hundreds of credits into new armor and items, while the time required for promotions makes them investments in themselves. Losing an upper-tier colonel with abilities that saved rookies on multiple occasions creates a gap in your roster that takes time to fill. This makes progression all the more important because the newly gained abilities can prevent their own future loss.The Diablo games give players the option of having permadeath with Hardcore mode. In action-RPGs, where the tide can turn at any second, this mode demands split-second decisions and complete skill mastery. Experience and exploration become much more important without the possibility of respawning, and every quest feels much tenser. Should you die, the character is erased and you’re forced to start over at level one with no items at your disposal. This loss of items and abilities is even more effective than in XCOM, considering how unique each character can be. Whereas a leveled XCOM soldier can be replicated in a handful of missions, you need dozens of hours to recreate an elite Barbarian in Diablo. Nothing drives home the importance of decision making and resourcefulness like the looming threat of death. It’s one thing to be annoyed at the prospect of respawning when you’re close to mission completion, but to be permanently erased from the game makes you appreciate progression so much more.Emotional AftermathIn games with more emphasis on their narratives, characterization becomes paramount when extracting lasting emotions from the player. You wouldn’t mind being responsible for someone’s death in Mass Effect 2 as much if a bond hadn’t been created beforehand. Completing loyalty quests, entering romantic relationships, and holding engaging conversations with characters creates an attachment to the NPC that ensures the end is all the more draining. You can even argue the point that the actual life or death decision isn’t as important as the characterization leading up to it. You feel regret because that character would have been helpful in later, but you feel guilt because you actually cared for them. Much like Mass Effect, Heavy Rain is fundamentally based off of its characters and the decisions surrounding them. However, in this case you’re in charge of your own life more so than the lives of others. Playing four different people involved in a series of grisly murders, you’re presented with difficult decisions that convey emotions ranging from fear to extreme discomfort. In several cases, your choices can result in one of their deaths. Their absence affects you emotionally because you controlled them, and not merely interacted with them. Shock ValueGamers have become accustomed to second chances. The wide majority of modern games have, at the very least, implemented a respawn system that removes that sense of risk before making a difficult decision. Who cares about the consequences if you can reload a save in mere seconds? To be transported back to the heyday of arcades where one wrong move meant game over means nostalgia for some, and discomfort for others. Permanent death in games is a big selling point for those looking for a fresh experience. The risk of each situation paired with the potential guilt of bad decisions creates emotions largely absent from the majority of video games. Shocking people is becoming harder and harder in video games, but the guilt that comes from a character dying under your watch drives it home every time.
I like permadeath in narratives, like Mass Effect, where your decisions affect lives. But not in games like Diablo, where you die and have to start all over. Imagine permadeath in Fallout 3! that would suck so bad, it's bad enough forgetting to save.
I never let anyone die when I play Fire Emblem games. I instantly restart the chapter the moment I lose someone.
Honestly I HATE permadeath.
It just isn't my thing.
Well written feature Mike.
Roguelikes, such as dungeons of dredmore, are for a large part what they are because of permadeath (and higher difficulty which makes the permadeath all the more serious). While most of the time I would prefer something less stressful sometimes it's a really nice kind of challenge to try and beat. Even games where it's not an official mode it can be interesting, just reading a nuzlocke comic you can tell the difference it makes when you only give yourself (or teammates) a single life in a game, not just gameplay wise but emotionally.
The more I like permadeath the less I have pleasure going through games when death only means go back to the last checkpoint.
That's a dangerous , insidious feature.^^
Permadeath can be a great thing when executed correctly. I'd like to see some more use of it from talented developers.
Permadeath is a nice feature in games like mass effect where if the character dies they are gone forever.
Permadeath is both awesome and horrible. It's been blowing my mind in xcom. Games like fire emblem and final fantasy tactics had it. i love and hate it because it makes it so you actually lose people you feel it and it frustrates you.
Isn't that what most games these days are all about. They want you to feel for the character or characters. My sister laughs at me when i say that i feel for Kratos on the God of War series. Because he is constantly reminded about the murder of his family by his own hands. I believe that it makes you work harder on your character because you want them to win and excel on their quest for victory.
The more games I see and play with Perma-death the more I love them. XCOM is a great example because I personalize each new recruit to be someone I know in real life so losing them is always heart wrenching. And what few games I've played with true death in them have been great IMO. I would love to see a few more of these each year where your character dying carries more serious consequences that mean more than simply respawning back however far the checkpoint was and maybe costing you money/loot.
Didn't even hesitated when I told Ashley to stay and di- defend the bo- No to stay and die.
Thane on the other hand, that's another story. Didn't really care much for Mordin, though.
Captain Kirrahe might not have been part of the Normandy fanclub but I was surprisingly sad when he died, loved his speeches about holding the line...good times.
Remember being shocked when I got Meryl killed on my second playthrough in mgs1, I skipped the torture because I already beat it the first time, little did I know I signed her death warrant, but that's ok that ending ain't canon.
Another good example is Fly Girl from Deus Ex:HR.
I'm the Spy boy *manly tears*
permadeath is pretty fun!
I sort of expect permanent death in any strategy game. For example, you don't bring a Cannon unit back from the dead in Civilization, but it's no surprise. Otherwise Strategy games would lose their strategic charm.
Permadeath is one of those rare things that makes a game REALLY good, especially if it is your own character. Because in the end, no matter if you die or it's an NPC, you feel bad. Even if it's not the central concept, I believe that permadeath, or potential permadeath, should be a feature in more games.
I have always enjoyed games that offer permanent death because it really does add a whole other level of depth and distinction to games and it can very well make you enjoy the game more. I can think of Bioshock Infinite and its new mode they are adding that might be interesting the 1980 or whatever mode. I also can think of one game that had one of the best stories and acclaim ever being Call of Duty Modern Warfare where you had that one point where you died after a nuke went off. If you think about how emotional that game was is really crazy. I wish more games gave you the option to have a mode where when you die you're dead for good. They can really add depth IMO.
Permadeath works when implemented right. Like in Dead Space 2 -- you only have 3 saves, so you risk permanently losing everything every time you pass up saving, but also there's that risk of needing that save later down the road.