How Video Games trivialize Mortality.
“Death is terrifying because it is so ordinary. It happens all the time.” – Susan Cheever
Never have these words been more true than when it comes to video games. During the course of an average FPS campaign, for instance Halo 3, you will die. A lot. Every mission of the campaign will see you fall to overwhelming odds time and time again, and for what reason? The game isn’t going to lock you out just because you died. It’s going to reset itself, placing you at a convenient checkpoint and wait patiently for you to beat the level you previously failed. Ignoring death like this, rendering it no more than a minor inconvenience, compels me to ask the question:
Why even allow the player to die?
Dead Space 2 is one of my favorite horror games, but it suffers because of death in a way a lot of jump-scare titles do. If I’m anxiously wandering down a derelict hall, just knowing that at some point, something, somewhere is going to leap out at me, I’m just terrified.
However once the hall’s monster reveals itself, the suspense is gone. The fear of the unknown is removed. Then it kills me and I’m sent back to the start of the ancient hall. Now all the fear I had is gone. My death forewarned me. That sentence should not make any sense, yet in the world of video games it does. Now wandering down the path is more an inconvenience than anything. Here, my death and subsequent re-spawn has removed me from the game and taken the thrill out of advancing.
Platforming games are another kettle of fish altogether. Take Mario games for instance. Either you have titles like the original punishing you for any slip or lack of skill so that you can only advance through trial and error and steep learning curve. Or you have 3D Land, which hands you so many lives that dying is nothing more than an insignificant annoyance in your gaming experience.
Solutions to this problem have had varied results. Our first example is Prince of Persia for the PS3 and Xbox 360
People had mixed opinions on this game, but personally I enjoyed it. It had one significant element to it that drove some people nuts, and pleased others. In this game you could not die. A platformer-3rd person brawler, POP removed the ability to die by providing you with a guardian angel (or princess) who rescued you just as you were about to tumble to your death. This complete removal of death succeeded in allowing the player to play the game uninterrupted. It worked for me.
There is another game however, which doesn’t dance around death, but revels in it. Celebrates it. That game? Super Meat Boy.
A brutally difficult platformer, Super Meat Boy kept track of your deaths, each one a step towards a morbid highscore. This acceptance and integration of death as a track-able component of the game is an interesting concept. Here at least, dying isn’t ignored. This solution wouldn’t work outside the platformer genre however. Who would want to know how often the chosen one was defeated, or the amount of times the vault dweller was pummeled to the ground? Actually..
In a novel, the character’s fate is out of your hands. In a movie, their destiny is predetermined. Video Games struggle to deal with death and how to portray it. The fact of the matter is that killing a player’s character 50 times throughout the course of the game is ridiculous, yet developers struggle to change things. With new titles like ZombiU perhaps altering the medium’s portrayal of death, Video Games may finally break free from one of it’s fundamental flaws and allow people to immerse themselves further into virtual realities.