Friday, August 27, 2010

Faux Death in video games

After having a taste of perma death in torchlight (twice!), it's interesting to be playing the...I dunno, is there a name for it? Perma death has a name, but not ever being able to die is given no name.

And it's funny - the shadow of death permiates playing with no death. But it's just a feeling. A strong one, but just a feeling because it's not there.

It reminds me of when I first played wow, having only played in imagined game worlds before in table top games where you could die (though to be honest, rarely did).

As in the feeling of possible death gives the world oomph, and yet it's completely BS oomph.

Indeed, when I was playing hardcore, stats became important to me. As important as they seem to get to people who play on no death games.

I'm wondering if, for people who get intense about the stats, the feeling of possible death just does not fade over time with them? When I play hardcore I feel drawn into the world because of the need to survive. Do people who try to collect all the stuff have a feeling of possible death that drives it - it's not just the collect everything urge? It's both?

What do you think?


  1. Personally, I'd float the idea that it's reflexive acquisitiveness - WoW in particular is pretty masterful at stringing interwoven objectives and rewards together, such that you can actually "follow" quests through most/much of the game world by finding the right quest-giver who tells you "Thanks for helping Zone B... can you deliver this package to Zone C?"

    The fact that certain random-drop items begin quests is a very smart touch, as well - it means that even if you're just grinding to kill time, you might pick up a quest and get thrown back onto the Acquisition Track, as it were.

    There's also the Veblenian (ha! great word) attempt to get the very best (i.e. most l337-looking) gear, not necessarily for its own specific utility, but because a) it'll look cool to strangers and b) it'll get you props from your raid companions and guild buddies.

    I think that death in WoW is exactly what it appears to be - a minor setback, occasionally exacerbated by poor timing. Fundamentally, though, you might as well be tagging someone out in Dodge Ball - they'll be back. They'llll be baaaack.

    Absolutely, though, the fairly primal survive-urge is present, but I don't think that really comes to the fore of players' motives until they start to get low on health; yes, I've met some players who tap into this thrill whenever possible, and that's what PVP is all about. But PVP is poorly integrated into the overall game experience, so I still point my finger at feeling jealousy/inspiring jealousy as a more central motive.

  2. Hi again Zac,

    I don't know how you could conduct this experiment, but I think it'd be facinating to test a group who have no death penalty and a group who do. They both play and then you rate their apparent aquisition and leet gear pursuit.

    It'd be really interesting to see if the group with death penalties had a higher desire. I'm thinking yes - in real life, in tough times people turn to comfort foods. In game - comfort gear?

    But running an actual experiment would be a real determiner and facinating!

  3. Well, while we're imagining said experiment, what do you think we could replace a "death penalty" with? And if there really is no character death at all, would that change what sort of game there is?

    Arguably, comfort-gear (I'ma steal that phrase..) is useful because it helps you better ward off death. If death is not an issue, then gear could still help you overcome challenges, so stat buffs and the like are still a possibility, but how does one "lose" a physical contest in such an environment?

    For that matter, what is "death"? In WoW, you're essentially teleported away, made intangible, and then have to tag your dead body to get it back. You don't go away for any real length of time, and the only penalty to your equipment is a small to moderate amount of wear and tear.

  4. How does one lose indeed (raising the question 'can you not win'?). For example, what if when your health hit's the bottom, it just goes up to full again, instantly?

    Sometimes I think wow or such only has a death run (or upcoming guildwars 2 sending you to a waypoint), only to avoid how nakedly absurd it'd look for your health to shoot up again.

    Yet it's really not much different from how it is in wow.

    In my suggested experiment, it depends if you want the no death penalty group to even have the capacity to lose, or just have their health shoot up.