234 Death Is Lazy Game Design

In gaming, why is failure most commonly represented as death?

We see this across nearly every genre, style, demographic, and developer; avoid death and you’ll win the game. Die, and lose, or lose and die. But why can’t we come up with alternate designs to propel players forward? Is it that our genetic, instinctual, primitive minds will always respond to (and protect against) our own death?

Or is it just lazy game design?

Tetris, the indisputable best video game of all time, surprisingly avoids this. You don’t “die” when your game is over; the screen is simply too full to continue, and you lose. Without going out of my way to look, no other examples are coming to mind. And I’ve played and finished a lot of games since 2012.

Looking back at the 30 or so games I’ve experienced this year, exactly one of them doesn’t involve dying, and that’s Double Fine’s Broken Age. Every other game either uses death to punish failure, is so far obscured from anything related to life anyway (Peggle 2), or is a part of the brand new genre of exploration-focused games (Ether One, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter).

I’m not condemning any of these other games individually for including death. Many of them are insanely successful, rewarding, and beautiful experiences. The comment is more on the general trend. I’d like to be a part of a revolution against death in video games.

[ Today I Was Playing: Pokemon Alpha Sapphire and Persona 4: Golden ]

August 22, 2015