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Death is Only Temporary, At Least in My Fantasy Worlds

I've tormented myself over this blog, how to write it, whether to write it, or if it would even be well received. After reading all of the "this is what I want from the next generation" blogs/editorials/threads etc. I am not so interested in the next generation from a wish list perspective. I understand that the systems will bring plenty of promise for new gameplay innovations, I don't think they will be as staggering as they were in the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube era, but there will be a few here and there. Problem is that markets speak for themselves, and since the market doesn't really seem to be wishing to stray too far from the status quo, I don't foresee too many outright jaw dropping, "this is going to change the way we play games forever" innovations to still be reached. Now what I do see as highly promising, is that death and life can forever be changed in the way developers handle that topic in the next generation.

Consider this concept I've toyed around with:

A large open world game, akin to the Fallout or Elder Scroll series, where your character ages in the game. Obviously real time aging would be highly disastrous since unlocking the content and emotional impact of life events would be highly impossible and difficult if players had to wait their own lifetime for a character to pass of old age. Your character can start at any age you wish, but for the sake of making this example concise we will start at the age of 25, as it seems a nice average number for the age most players are these days. Over the course of the next 200 hrs of game time your character will age 75 years. Throughout this process and as new years come and go your avatar sustains critical injuries in negative penalties for using that limb and also can suffer form permanent death.

What separates this is that throughout your adult life you are capable of fathering children, and populating the world with your progeny unlocks the games only feature for a reload. Once your original avatar perishes you, as the player will gain the ability to control one of your progeny, simple easy and fun. Now obviously you don't want to start on your quest from ground one, but perhaps your child could travel to the last location you were known to be at uncover a few clues and travel to your final resting place to carry on your quest. Maybe your companion that you've spent so many years with knows of this child and carries your most valuable belongings back to them and asks for their aid in finishing that quest. The point is that the game is not over, only that character has died.

Why does this hold so much sway in my value of what I'd like to see. In a recent discussion on storytelling and plot, my girlfriend and I uncovered a gaping hole in our connection to video game narrative. When you die that death is only temporary. It may suck if you didn't save properly to have to restart from the beginning of some irrationally difficult area, but you still get to do that. Your quest is still free to be completed, and you personally haven't lost any connection to those events. Death in reality isn't like that at all, and even in other mediums, save comic books, once a character dies, that's that no restart, no checkpoint to go back and fix the mistakes. It's permanent, it's devastating, and it leaves the viewer/participant feeling unfinished. Of course there may or may not be more to that entertainment, but that character's quest or goals are left to be fulfilled by those left behind.

When game developers create video games, they are not capable, or perhaps unwilling, to create these types of scenarios, because part of this industry's greatest trouble is the need to balance story and gameplay while being cognizant of the fact that people are still playing a game. Make a game with permadeath far to difficult and players will likely give up, and that results in lost revenue. As a result video games are often left with our own avatar not being the catalyst for which we emotionally connect to the world they inhabit. Rather in games like Mass Effect our avatar of Shepherd, becomes the catalyst for emotional connections to other characters, often leaving our own avatar to still remain a plastic thing to move us through those emotions. I don't think there is necessarily anything wrong with the storytelling philosophy at hand here, other than the fact that even some of those deaths or moments of joy in games of that ilk are devoid of that pure emotional situation that we inhabit when we experience a movie. Especially given that risk and reward are never truly all that risky. 

Dying over and over again and sitting through an entire loading screen, is truly irritating, I don't doubt that it isn't, but the risk isn't as heavy as the reward. Nor do I feel that it should matter. Our video game avatars are repeatedly put through tortuous and strenuous tests of faith on our part. We launch them off cliffs, go head first into a sea of battle, and place them against odds which are seemingly downright unshakable. These create great moments of gameplay and breathtaking water cooler moments, and while you are shaking and pumped full of emotions because that's how you are meant to feel, it doesn't move us forward into creating the emotional ties ourselves. In a medium that is interactive, I understand that certain events must transpire for narrative to move forward, but this industry lacks the interactivity of your own emotions to evolve with your avatar. I think if this were to be a "wishlist" blog then the only thing I can say is that in my open world RPGs from here on out I want permadeath, and the ability to raise children to take my name and carry on in my quest. It's time to start looking at how we emotionally interact with these games, rather than how we input commands to get us to that emotional point the developers would like to see.

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