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.
By far Diablo 2 had the best perma-death. Leveling to 99 only to group up with others who get you killed was unbelievably soul crushing.
Legion's death was the hardest and his words made me cry when I recalled them choosing the Destroy ending...His death was in vain.
Permadeath does make me a little more attentive when playing. The worst is when a game gives you the opportunity to respawn by manually saving and you die before doing so.
very good article, I appreciate that members of GI don't only write about upcoming games but also about the structure and impact from games
Reminds me of my first few hours of Final Fantasy Tactics, the game was so tense then. One wrong move could have ended it for me. (and a few did) I loved it.
I think the permanent death feature works for some games, while it doesn't have much of an effect for others. Take for example, Day Z, you have but one life while trying to survive not only zombies, but also other players and the harsh realities of the environment.
Permanent death adds a layer of importance and tension to everything you do, especially if you've managed to survive for days on end and have accumulated a substantial supply of resources (which can be very hard to come by).
love that type of game
Imagine Dark Souls with Permadeath....YIKES
It looks like ZombiU for Wii U is taking this approach though. I know that once your character dies they're gone forever and you become somebody else trying to survive. You can then go find your former self (which is now a zombie) and kill them to get their supplies, sounds pretty neat.
My Mass Effect wall of fallen soldiers was extremely big.
It's definitely a good concept that fits certain genres. An RPG or action RPG like Skyrim and Read Dead Redemption (RDR) have these types of situations for the support cast. When I accidentally killed my follwer in Skryim I was a little emotionally attached but it wasn't that hard to find a replacement. In RDR my brother had a strange attachment to his horses. He would go thru great lengths to make sure his horse was not in the middle of gun fight.
When he lost a few he would mope around for a few days before he found a replacement that he liked. I think he names his horse Charlie Murphy.
Regardless, i hope it's a concept that continues where it makes sense.
There should definitely be the option to choose Permadeath if you want but I'm not really a big permadeath fan probably due to the fact that I usually choose to fight not flee and I'm also a pretty terrible gamer.
I think perma-death should always be an option, but I don't think it should be the default setting.
Perma-death is a great feature used to wrangle in overzealous gamers who have been acclimated and conditioned over the years that they are invincible. I think it's a great concept that is under-utilized in a lot of games. It gives gamers a reason to think about their actions almost as if it's a real life situation. It might even help to facilitate critical thinking skills.
I lked it on Majora'sMask and DeadRising2 & HeavyRain & GrandTheftAutoIVs
I don't know about this. Anything, when done right, can add to an experience of art. Putting body parts were they didn't actually go was really not okay in paintings until Picasso. But It still isn't okay unless your Picasso or someone as good as him. While I do remember my time with permadeath in Nintindo fondly, I also remember playing only one game exclusively for months and never beating it. Eventually I got tired of the "story" and would move on. In Modern games I would be willing to try extending my attention span for that, but could I really invest the time it would take to complete a game that, in a strait play through would take ten hours, but being forced to restart, playing the first three hours a good thirty times before I finally experience those last couple of hours? Plus, just this year alone there are twenty games that I MUST buy and play, spending about forty hours on each is okay, but hundreds? I'm glad that the industry is more focused on story these days rather than challenge. If a Picasso of gaming arrises and creates apermadeath masterpiece then I will rejoice along with everyone else, but until then, I just want to have fun getting to that final cut-scene.
Realm of the Mad God. Its like a 8-bit action game with leveling. I'd call it persistant but a mere moments loss of focus can cost a high level character you thought was nigh immortal.
Love this option in games. I think all games should have this as a mode
Permadeath can work, it depends on the game. In XCOM it sounds like a good feature, I really need to pick that game up. In Diablo? Yeah, not so much. I don't have that kind of time anymore.
Fire Emblem had permadeath and I was never a fan of it. Losing Soren, my absolute best mage, left a hole that could never be filled as none of my other mages even compared to him. So I would never lose anyone. I would just reload from a checkpoint or restart the level. Still absolutely adore the Fire Emblem games though. Those games make you think and use tactics in a way that no RTS has ever managed for me.