Thursday, December 2, 2010

Blog Post: The death of dying?

The idea of “dying” has been a major aspect of video games pretty much since they began. Anyone who has lived through the first couple console generations likely has memories of getting so incredibly close to the end of the game, only to lose your last life, discover that you had no continues left, and then face the crushing realization that you now had to start all over again. 
Of course, since you couldn’t save your progress in many cases, you were almost always forced to complete your games in one sitting. Seeing the dreaded “Game Over” screen was the ultimate punishment for messing up, and in this way, video games back then demanded a certain amount of skill and patience. Being able to complete a game was a legit test of skill, and I salute anyone who beat that 1993 Aero the Acrobat those are some interesting childhood memories.

(^ fu****g game, lol.)
Times are undoubtedly changing. It began with the save feature, which made losing all your lives much less of a punishment. With a save feature, losing all your lives and continues simply sent you back to the game’s main menu to load your last save and try again. You still may have lost some progress, depending on when your last save point was, but certainly, you didn’t have to start the entire game all over again to reach the same point. As the years went on, we’ve seen this concept taken further and further. Some games now give you check points in addition to save points, and dying sets you back to the nearest check point regardless of your last save. Some games let you save whenever you want, some games even save for you automatically every few minutes. The recent Final Fantasy XIII, for the first time in the long-running series’ history, removed the concept of losing progress entirely. In addition to save points literally every 5-10 minutes, dying in Final Fantasy XIII simply starts you right back in front of the enemy that killed you, with no penalty to speak of except having to try the fight again.
What’s becoming apparent is a shift in the video game industry that seems to be removing the idea of “dying” entirely. There are now games, such as 2008’s Prince of Persia, (yup, that's where I got the idea for this) that  don’t let you die at all: falling off a ledge simply results in a spirit guardian pulling you back up and letting you attempt the jump again. I think this shift is happening for a couple reasons. The big one is money.
Video games are becoming more expensive to make, and as a result, the industry has become more mainstream: it had to. As many people as possible need to buy big-budget games for them to make any profit, so publishers and developers seem to have realized that inaccessibility can turn away potential buyers. This has been going on for a long time and it’s not even debatable: video games in the past 10 years or so have become significantly easier than they ever were before. Many would argue that it goes back even further than that.
                Some people have undoubtedly resisted this change, (probably those with fond memories of the days when games were hard as hell) and some people have embraced it, and to be honest, I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. On one hand, as someone who played video games back during the Sega Genesis era as a little kid, there are some games today that I feel have become too easy, and the games that don’t let you die at all bother me a little bit for that reason. The old-school gamer in me just can’t wrap my head around the idea that there’s no punishment at all for, basically, playing badly.

On the other hand, I think that the very creation of saving your game at all made “losing all your lives” totally irrelevant anyway, and common sense would tell us that it was only a matter of time before the idea of a game giving your character “lives” at all was, in turn, removed. And in Prince of Persia 2008, if you lose a QTE on a boss, the boss simply gets a huge chunk of their health back..and isn't that sort of the same concept as dying anyway? So that begs the question of what exactly people (myself included) are complaining about.

The lack of dying can even be a good thing in some cases: since you were never in danger of losing your progress in Final Fantasy XIII, the developer had the freedom to make the battles actually pretty tough without worrying too much about people quitting the game in frustration. In that sense, I think this change can be a good thing. Accessibility is a good thing. It is a tightrope, though. Developers need to be careful not to make their games too easy, otherwise they may become almost mindless, and even boring.

Overall though, it was a change that was probably inevitable and who knows? Maybe games will be able to do what Final Fantasy XIII did and focus its challenge on the gameplay itself instead of focusing its challenge on the frustration of losing all your progress. If this happens, games may very well be better for it…….and these are probably the games I'll like best going forward.

It's funny though, because even after saying that, I've just finished playing Kirby's Epic Yarn, (review coming at some point,) a game I didn't expect to like at all because of its ease in difficulty, but I ended up enjoying it A LOT more than I'm currently enjoying Donkey Kong Country: Returns, which seems to be all about dying and its "lives" system. Go figure.


  1. I know that I personally wouldn't be able to stand videogames if they had no save features... I would just lose all enthusiasm if I lost 3 hours worth of progress in a game and had to start over. Would probably never go back to it.

    I'm talking about for like RPG's and stuff. I guess it's OK with platformers, but I still prefer for there to be a save system.

    Oh and also. Don't use the tab key when doing new paragraphs on the internet. It just looks bad. It's not the same as doing a tab key in print. =P

  2. haha alright, noted.

    Anyway yeah, looking at it now, it's pretty insane that back then there were no save points, but at that time it was just how it was. For the most part. There were some games that started to come out with saving features. But yeah it was pretty normal not to be able to save.

  3. I'm pretty sure most of the games you mentioned early on were arcade games intentionally designed to be insanely difficult so that people kept feeding quarters to the machines.

  4. Yup. That's another thing that might be part of "the death of dying." The death of arcades. The lives system was pretty much made for arcades and when console gaming got big they sort of just stuck with it. But now that arcades are pretty much dying out (which sucks,) I guess people are wondering what the point is in continuing with the "lives" system.

  5. Another thing to consider about this subject is what if the reason developers are making games easier is because of how gamers kept raging at games for being hard?

  6. Not to mention the fact that the industry right now is obsessed with bringing in "new people" to games, going out of their way to make games more accessible for these new gamers.