RKD on… 2010: Part 5 – Dealing with death


Elton John and Tim Rice got it wrong. Life in videogames is far less of a circle and more of a revolving door. Fortunately, today’s instalment of RKD’s 2010 retrospective series suggests a ‘meaningful’ trend in the way our virtual deaths are handled.

Tristan: 2010 seemed to be a year that developers began to feel comfortable allowing the death of their protagonists to mean more than a simple ‘retry’ screen.

It’s not that main characters haven’t been sent to their graves as part of the core plots of games before, it seems though that now they’re doing so more often and in more gameplay-based ways (rather than through cutscene exposition). It’s a sign that videogames are moving further beyond their arcade, coin swallowing roots towards being a medium in which death is something that can finally be examined, rather than simply getting in the way of a speedrun.

I won’t mention all of them (for the sake of anti-spoiler goons knocking down my door), but there were some great character deaths in the stories of some of 2010′s games. Heavy Rain had meaningful player-character deaths. Mass Effect had the possibility of members of the ensemble cast disappearing from Mass Effect history (even though Shepard is the main character the deaths had more impact than most). There was One Chance. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, released last year in Australia, has death as its central theme.

Harry: To each his own, but I interpreted Shattered Memories’ themes as less about Cheryl coping with Harry’s death, and more about how she (through the player’s “psychology” choices) now perceives him (and thus, her subsequent lifestyle choices).

Daniel: Agreed regarding Mass Effect 2′s meaningful deaths. The finale really made me glad that I had invested in each of the characters and knew what I was doing; if I’d rushed it, I’m sure I would have killed someone. I’d like to know if anyone actually managed to kill off their entire crew, though. I’ve seen YouTube clips of it, but really, you’d have to be seriously bad at the game to get that ending. Still, sucks for you if you wanted Mass Effect 3
to be interesting.

Mass Effect 3: In space, no-one can hear you scream. Because they’re all dead. And so are you.

Tristan: I had two characters die and the fact that I’m kinda bummed about it, but at the same time interested to see how that’s going to affect the next chapter, is testament to just how important character is in that game. The traditional gamer in me wanted to go back and change things so that everybody lived, but the guy in me that loves story in games told me not to.

Fraser: It was a year for games that reflected on our tropes and traditions. Death has always been a big part of gaming, but usually as an inconsequential event, or an inconvenience that can be remedied with a coin or a quickload. Not to say that no game has played with the death-cheating conventions of videogames before, but as Tristan said, there was a definable trend towards a sober treatment of death in this year’s games.

Tristan: It’s interesting that within the everyday of Western culture, death is a topic that is almost to be avoided at all costs, and at best is to be treated as a final destination. While at the same time, so much of our creative output deals with the topic of how to live with death.

Gamers can be a thoughtful bunch after all! Tomorrow, RKD’s 2010 retrospective looks at the ‘acceptance’ of videogames in the grander scheme of society.

Related posts:

  1. RKD on… 2010: Part 2 – ‘Iteration’ vs. ‘innovation’
  2. RKD on… 2010: Part 4 – Portable preferences
  3. RKD on… 2010: Part 3 – There’s something about Minecraft

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Harry Milonas

A writer from Melbourne, Harry prefers you follow him on Twitter rather than home.

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One comment

  1. Matthew Barton

    Even the ‘retry’ screens are starting to get played around with, the best example i have seen was 2009′s Batman: Arkham Asylum. You would get a different ‘retry’ spiel depend on which boss you faced.

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