One of the most interesting themes that I found in several of my peer’s blog posts was that of the player-character’s death. I was inspired by Sae-Won’s post on Inside, where he discusses how death is an important mechanic in many game types, creating a meta of trial and error where each unsuccessful attempt is followed by a swift death and a restart at checkpoint of some kind. This implementation of death is integral to games from Super Mario to COD to Dark Souls, with each game deciding the degree of punishment that the player faces each time their character dies in the game.
The degree of punishment usually correlates with the level of perceived difficulty of a game and the sense of immersion felt by the player. In Rocket League for example, the task of controlling a car and performing soccer moves comprises a steep learning curve because it is not as simple as it first seems. One mechanic of the game is that of the “demolition”, where one car is destroyed in an explosion by a fast-moving opponent. After only a second or two, the destroyed car is respawned in another area of the arena, resulting in a very short punishment for this “death”. There is no limit on the number of times you can die in this way, so there is little incentive to avoid this death except for losing the time in the game to try and score on your opponent. Despite the ridiculous nature of the death, this demolition has very minimal
In a post on immersion in COD, Hunter talks about the aspects of the game that draw him out of immersion, yet overlooks the mechanic of death in the game. The realism of the game that is called into question largely concerns the game’s audio, rather than the mechanic that makes it playable. If death were to play a more realistic part in the game, it is likely that COD would become impossibly hard because it would eliminate the possibility for learning and retrying missions. Which breaks immersion more, unrealistic mechanics or levels that become unplayable?
Jose’s post on Dark Souls talks about the anxiety and sense of punishment that accompanies the game. To quickly summarize that punishment, each time the player dies, all of the “souls” that they have collected are left behind at their place of death, able to be retrieved only until the player dies again. To make the game even more challenging, there is little instruction as to how best to play the game, so players are left to fend for themselves in a harsh game world. As Sae-Won talked about, this can easily lead to frustration rather than reflection (as Sae-Won does in another post on Inside), though a different system could cause the game to seem trivial or death to be insignificant as in a game like Rocket League.
I think it is a difficult task to determine the appropriate level of punishment for failure in a video game, though I believe that it is time for the game industry to move beyond death as a low-consequence punishment. There are more creative ways of adding these kinds of punishments to games that remain relatively unexplored in mainstream games.