Spoilers for Metal Gear Solid. If you have not beaten Metal Gear Solid, this article is all about it. Also, I mention Modern Warfare 2's ending briefly.
If I were to die in nearly any video game, I would get a Game Over screen. Then I'd be allowed a continue so I could try to get past the obstacle that killed me again. If I didn't get a Game Over screen, the game would automatically reload, then place me at a previously-recorded checkpoint. Either way, I'd be allowed to retry the scene. Sometimes it doesn't have to be death that restarts the scene. If I were to shoot someone that I wasn't supposed to shoot or run somewhere that I wasn't supposed to run to, the game might restart. This is because, by going against my pre-programmed goals, I'm betraying the game's writers and trying to escape a plot laid out for me. Yes, the Vault 101 Dweller has a choice to blow up the city or not (and the plot will shift to meet either end), but if he gets shanked walking out the door of Tenpenny Tower, there isn't any way for the plot to accommodate that unpredictable loss of a protagonist, thus the scene must be replayed so that the Lone Wanderer may make it safely to his final destination.
Imagine if a completely insignificant, run-of-the-mill Keese swooped into Link and killed him? The world would plummet into darkness. Hundreds of years of history and tradition, wiped out by one precious human life not accomplishing its goal. An entirely different story, but one that we are rarely allowed to see. Yes, in Modern Warfare 1 and 2, the protagonist sometimes dies. But we don't get to see what would become of the world had Roach survived another day to denounce Sheperd, then have him taken away. That's the sort of loss that we never feel in video games; the feeling of true remorse for triggering what shouldn't have happened. Enter Metal Gear Solid's torture sequence.
Aboard Shadow Moses Island, Snake looks to defeat the next obstacle in his path to stopping Liquid Snake: Sniper Wolf. While walking unsuspectingly with Meryl across a long hallway, a bullet whizzes by Snake's side, striking Meryl. This is the mark of Sniper Wolf, who resides high above the corridor, ready to take a shot at Snake. Though panicked by Meryl's pain, Snake finds a weapon suitable for a sniping dual. After a tense shoot-out, Wolf manages to capture both Snake and Meryl. Snake is placed in the confines of a torture-machine that threatens to send electrical shocks through his body, creating immense pain without killing him. After a lecture from Liquid Snake, Solid is left, imprisoned and half-naked, with Revolver Ocelot, Liquid's right-hand man. Ocelot tells Snake that he can either attempt to resist the pain or give in. Of course, if Snake cries "Uncle," Ocelot will take Meryl's life. "There are no continues, my friend," Ocelot mockingly exclaims. What follows is an unsophisticated button-mashing minigame. Mash the X button quickly and Snake will take it all in. Fail, and Snake will be forced to give in to the pain and let Meryl go. This is where my first real feeling of regret in any video game took place.
I listened to Ocelot nonchalantly. I figured, "hey, I'll get a Game Over if I lose and I'll try again." Little did I know, there really were "no continues." Long story short, I lost. That's when the game's plot started crumbling apart before me, but at the same time, it didn't stop just because it went where Hideo Kojima didn't want it to go.
With Snake fizzling in agony, Ocelot seemed almost shocked by what took place before him. And he was rightfully displeased. What happened shouldn't have happened. Instead, Snake should have been the man he always had been and would have gone on to be. And so Ocelot went on to mock Snake for his weakness, asking him if he could ever look at himself in the mirror again, knowing that he could not prevent Meryl's murder. Nonetheless, Snake was brought to his cell and the story continued to unfold as scheduled.
What was not scheduled, however, was Meryl dying a horrible death. And as such, everyone Snake knew was reminding him that he was responsible for a horrible thing. Otacon tried to comfort Snake, Campbell started crying and tried to convince himself that Snake couldn't have done anything because he was always too weak, and even Snake broke down into fits of "I'm a horrible person, I can't go on living." The whole time, I felt awful. As Snake fell into bouts of self-reflection, I couldn't help but feel that I had really killed someone that I was attached to, simply because I didn't care enough about her at the one time that I could have saved her life. At the very end of the game, during Liquid and Solid's fistfight, Liquid revealed that Meryl was linked to a ticking chemical "time-bomb." That's when I went into full-on, heart-pumping mode. I had to win this fight, if only to save one collection of sound-bytes and polygons that somehow meant something to me. So I won the fight, but she still was going to die. Great. As her last moments passed by, Snake sat by her, crying. He went into a full-blown speech about how he was too weak to do anything, that he was a coward, that he's worthless now. Suddenly, I became somewhat angry that Snake was doubting himself because of my mistake. He had completely degraded himself in my mind. What had once been a slick macho-man who only cares about himself was now crying over a woman he had known for about a day. But the last scene completely ruined it for me. In the ending cutscene, instead of driving off on a snowmobile with Meryl, he drove off with Otacon. And it reeked of "You don't need her, Snake. You have me!"
The whole game turned into a mindfuck as soon as I messed up on that one god-forsaken game where I press a goddamn button really fast or else I lose. Everything had turned upside down, and Hideo wanted me to feel like I was living in a bizarro world. First, everyone is all sad because Snake is actually just a puny, little man who can't do anything for himself. Then, Snake breaks down. And suddenly, Snake doesn't care about any of the bad stuff anymore and just wants to live a happy, normal life with his best-buddy Otacon!
An entire series of video games that I was planning on playing was suddenly invalidated and made redundant. With Campbell's one child dead and Snake never wanting to fight again, MGS2 and 4 would never come to exist, and Liquid would eventually take over the world, turning it into a nightmare made only for killing and war.
When I allowed an integral character to die, I was doing the wrong thing. Not necessarily an evil thing, as I wasn't necessarily given a choice, and I did not want Meryl to die at all. The entire time, I played Metal Gear Solid with the same good intentions as Snake. But I accidentally failed the mission, which should have sent me back to the beginning of the scene, so I could have done things right. But, in an excellent way of writing, Kojima decided to allow a second path where I could diverge from the true story and actually see what would become of the game's canon if I were to actually fail the mission. In reality, Snake had never given up and had resisted the torture, saving Meryl's life. However, I saw an alternate reality, where doing the wrong thing at the wrong time had resulted in a drastically different world. And I felt horrible about it.
And so, what if we did get to see what would happen if Gordon Freeman were to die? What if the writers really could allow us to see what shouldn't be seen? Would dying still be doing the "wrong" or "incorrect" thing? Maybe. Even a choose-your-own-adventure book can only account for so many missteps. But I at least want to see more of the world that won't ever be seen. I want to see what really happens when we do what we weren't suppose to have done, not just another "You have died. Continue?" screen.