question of the month

Question Of The Month Reader Responses: Issue #251

by Jeff Marchiafava on Feb 20, 2014 at 04:45 AM

A few months back we asked readers whether the concept of lives in video games is still relevant. While most respondents pointed to save states and checkpoints as the modern replacement, others believe lives still play an important role in some classic genres. Here are some of the responses we received.

Get To The (Check)Point:

  • Looking at the seven games I own for my PlayStation 4, five of them have characters that can die. When they do, there is no number indicating their remaining lives; all that happens is you start over. Games are now based on checkpoints, not lives. No matter how many times I die in Knack or Lego Marvel, I will still start at the same checkpoint. The only games that use lives anymore are arcade games that are based entirely on top scores.

    Christopher Smith
  • I would have to say yes, lives in games are indeed obsolete. In earlier games, you had lives and maybe health bars too, but games weren't as complex as today's games. For example, in Super Mario for the NES, if you ran out of lives, you had to restart, but now in more complex and longer games like Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time, you have save points and a health bar, so you just go back to the checkpoint. Health bars and checkpoints have changed the way that video game lives are seen.

    Tom Sacco

Saving The Day:

  • I would say that lives in video games are generally obsolete because most developers now give the option for the player to create his or her own game saves. To answer the question historically, lives were created as a scheme to make money on arcade games and still used that way today. Only now we don't use quarters to continue – we press start on our home consoles. Depending on the game, if you can alter the difficulty, then a set amount of lives is no good. However, if the game developer wanted to set one standard difficulty for the game then I see how lives could be used. Overall though, they're now obsolete with home consoles.

    Adam J. Paredes
  • It is my belief that “lives” in video games have indeed become obsolete. Today’s games less about seeing if you can beat a game within a number of tries. Current games usually create autosaves as you progress, so the task of managing your in-game lives is irrelevant; if you die, you just reload your progress and try not to make the same mistakes twice. I believe most companies have done away with lives as a way to keep people interested in a title; even the platforming genre has eliminated the idea of lives, and games that still hold on to this tradition usually let the player have as many continues they may need to complete the game. 

    Greg Griner

The Meaning Of Lives?:

  • I believe the traditional life system is quickly becoming obsolete, if it isn't already. Most games do not have any major consequences for running out of lives. For example, if you run out of lives in Kirby & The Amazing Mirror, you don't even see a Game Over screen; you just get whisked back to the central hub. I remember thinking, "What's the point?" And don't even get me started on Super Mario Galaxy's life system! While there are some exceptions, I would even go so far as to say lives in video games rarely apply outside of arcade games.

  • As we get older, find jobs, and start families, we have less time for games – especially those that require days of practice due to having too few lives and too high difficulty. Games like Rayman Origins prove that unlimited lives don't take away from the game. In fact, it can be a motivation to complete the most difficult stages knowing you won't lose hours of work because you couldn't complete a stage in a couple of tries.

    Erik Dresner

Living In The Past:

  • I don't think lives are important anymore, but you can't change a classic like Mario or Sonic.

    Robert Budgell


  • I don’t think that lives are obsolete. Having a limited number of tries adds a sense of urgency and risk to the game. Getting killed in games with unlimited lives doesn't have the same emotional impact. When I play games like Defender and I'm down to my last life, it becomes an epic struggle to try to earn an extra life. I have plenty of favorite games that don't have limited lives, but in the games that do, I find they add a lot to the experience.

    John Enfield
  • Lives in video games are not obsolete in any way whatsoever. They make it so it is not game over if you screw up once, or have to redo everything. In fact, at my house, they can be a form of social hierarchy. In New Super Mario Bros., the more lives you have, the wiser you are treated at the game. I hit the max and have 99 lives.

    Ben Miller

Quite The Jokester:

  • I wish I could say they were. Life outside of gaming is something most gamers would find fulfilling – more so than the lives of their virtual doppelgangers – if only they took the opportunity to really enjoy it. Oh, wait; you meant that kind of lives. Never mind then...

    Philip Ehlke

Do you think lives in video games are obsolete? Share your thoughts in the comments below.