If you’re joining us for the first time, check out Part 1: The Problem and Challenges. If you missed the last entry in the Assigning Weight to Death in Games series, take a look at Part 3: Classes of Assigning Weight.
In the second installment of this series, I mentioned permadeath. I also said that I would cover it in some greater length in a later article. Well, the time for that article has come. So, let’s remind ourselves (not that I think anyone likely needs to): what is permadeath? Well, everybody knows that it’s when death in a game works in such a way that, when the player dies, their character is dead permanently. They aren’t coming back unless the game restarts. Simple, right? Well, I would argue not quite so simple as it seems. Not by a long shot.
Initially, I had planned to make this article a discussion about a whole host of standards by which to classify death mechanics and methods to assign weight to death in games. I had meant to talk about the advantages, disadvantages, applications, relation to the lessons from death, et cetera of each of this wide range of classes. It was going to be a sort of grand finale to what was meant to be a main trilogy (followed perhaps by a few short additions to the series over time). That, however, is not what this article has come to be. You see, as I worked my way through writing this installment, I came to a realization: even given the two previous articles, there was just too much left cram into one installment. Too many points and complexities were going to be cut short or simply forgotten, and the organization and pacing were turning out terribly. It dawned on me that the information needed to be split up throughout more articles. Furthermore, if I was going to have to make this series more than a trilogy, I thought why not include various article ideas I had decided to leave unwritten for the sake of a clean cut three? It was decided then, that this would not be the grand finale to a three-installment series. Instead, it will be the last installment of an initial, largely foundational trilogy for what’s shaping up to be a longer series on death in games and assigning it some well-deserved weight.
If you missed the first article, be sure to read Assigning Weight to Death in Games, Pt. 1: The Problem and Challenges.
I want to start off this week’s article by presenting a question: Why is death used almost universally as the manifestation of player failure in games? Though I hadn’t given it much thought before starting the series, there are certainly games which avoid using death in this fashion. Pokemon, the most profitable media franchise in history, merely has the Pokemon faint in its games. While this might have something to do with potential issues surrounding selling a game about making magical creatures murder one another to children, it does at least prove that death isn’t a necessary aspect for a game to have. Despite this, we overwhelmingly see death utilized. The answer as to why isn’t all that complicated: we use death almost universally because it’s feared almost universally.