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Thoughts on death and immersion


Let's start with the obvious: death reminds us that we're simply playing a game. Sure, we never truly forget this. It's not as if the illusion is strong enough to make us believe otherwise, but in a truly immersive moment, we simply fail to care about the distinction. It's simply an experience, and a damn impressive one at that. However, the moment that death strikes and we're treated to a "game over" screen or simply an automatic restart from a checkpoint, this momentary feeling in us is destroyed. Sure, we're ready to try again, but immersion can't be regained instantly after it is broken. It needs time to develop, and each death means yet another lost opportunity to keep yourself immersed.

Above all else, death gives us a moment to think. When you die in a game, whether it is your fault or not, a certain amount of frustration sets in. You may curse the game, your AI companions, your own lack of skill, or any number of things. Soon enough, your mind wanders everywhere but the experience you're supposed to be having. Upon your next retry of that difficult section, you'll likely begin to plan out how you're going to avoid those deaths of the past. At this point, your approach to the game changes. You're no longer concerned with being immersed. You're simply concerned with making progress.

If you think I'm suggesting that death be removed from games, you're wrong. After all, where would a game like Demon's Souls be, where much of the game's appeal relies upon death and its constant threatening presence? And where would all games be without a difficult final battle, where the epic quality comes from the difficulty in taking down the world's greatest enemy? No, games absolutely still need death, difficulty, and a sense of dread.

Instead, I think that game designers can carefully plan the places at which a player can die. A lack of death can most benefit those scenes like the one's I described above, where death would not significantly add to the fun of the game, and instead would lead to a loss of immersion and, in the long run, a less enjoyable experience with those scenes. I can only imagine how death would have affected my enjoyment of, say, the crumbling building scene. Had I attempted to jump to the next building and instead jumped awkwardly into the wall, I guarantee that I would view that scene very differently in its aftermath. Its effect would be greatly lessened.

So, my proposition is simple: take those incredible, cinematic moments, and make sure that we experience them as they're intended to be seen. Many have described moments in Uncharted 2 as "cut scenes that you play," and I think this is fair. Just as a cut scene has one definitive version of the experience, these cinematic moments can eschew death to ensure that we experience that one definitive version.

Afterward, the game can go back to punishing us in whatever way it seems fit. We'll be too awestruck by what we just experienced to care.
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About Andrew Kauzone of us since 5:10 PM on 04.30.2009

In loving memory: PAX 2009 (thanks ZombiePlatypus! And WalkYourPath, of course)

I'm Kauza, which is pronounced like cause-uh. My real name's Andrew Kauz, if you'd rather go for that.

I like talking to Dtoid people, so please add me on your favorite social networking site:
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/kauza
Gchat: santakauz[at]gmail.com.

Basics: I'm 25, and I write things.

Eternal thanks go out to Y0j1mb0 for the amazing header image you see above. So, thanks, sir!

Look at some of the things I've written.

Things on the Front Page:

Mass Effect, Metal Gear, Moon Unit, and more: An interview with Jennifer Hale
The Future: Demanding more from the voices of videogames
Love/Hate: A plea to play as a female Shepard
A warning: Regrets from a former life and experiences yet unlived
Top ten games for people who hate Thanksgiving
The wrong thing: Being evil should be more like sex
Staying dry in a sea of spoilers is a matter of building a boat
Lessons on taking games just seriously enough
Come, take your pilgrimage to gaming's one true mecca
Here's to you, random-JRPG-dialogue-writer-man
The forgotten: Crushing disappointment at the hands of Crash 'n the Boys
The people who have the power to change the world
Improving game communities: Enough with the negativity
The draw of exploration: Antarctica to Oblivion, Shackleton to Shadow Complex
I suck at games: BlazBlue and a slapdash attempt at fisticuffs
I, the Author: My Everest
Untapped Potential: The Gamer's Education
Other Worlds than These: Our World, Only Different

A series sort of thing about status effects
Toxic Megacolon and other fresh status effects
Curse you, status effects, stop confusing my heart
Status effects are poisons that turn my silent heart to stone
Also check out the related forum thread.

The Fall of the Titans (wherein I talk about dead or dying gaming companies)

The fall of the titans part 3: What once was shall be again
The fall of the titans: Sega died so that we might dream of the future
The fall of the titans: Why do the giants of gaming die?

Stories from the Past (a series about my experiences playing certain games):

Stories from the Past: Tobal 2, Tomba! 2, and console double-vision
Stories from the Past: Diablo and the Dark Ride
Stories from the Past: What the f*ck, mom?
Stories from the Past: Xexyz and the battle aboard Turtlestar Lobsterica
Stories from the Past: The One-Balled Man-Bear
Stories from the Past: The Battle of Olympus
Stories from the Past: Suikoden 2

Storytelling (a series about, well, storytelling):

Storytelling: The Problem of Genres
Storytelling: Mass Effect, Vonnegut, and the Fourth Rule
Storytelling: Doing Nothing in "The Darkness"
Storytelling: The Power of a Single Line (Yeah, it was my first post.)

Other stuff that is good:

Lessons on taking games just seriously enough
A consuming power: The demon and the borderlands
Can games transcend good and evil?
Nothing is sacred: We won't let you go alone, but we have made a tragic decision
How Destructoid single-handedly changed my motherís opinion of gaming
Why Tecmo Super Bowl is the greatest sports game of all time
Seven reasons that I will end you in creative ways if you don't play Folklore
Mother Nature and the Impending Death of the Gaming Spirit
Times Games Forgot: The Dark Ages
The Sins and Successes of In-game Collectibles
The Lock is Broken
When Music Surpasses the Game
Truckasaurus Rex and the Humor of Games
I Want to Cry (storytelling related, but not part of the series)

I have others as well that you can check out on my blog. You'll enjoy them or your money back.

Since it seems like the cool thing to do, here a list of my favorite games that is coming straight out of my ass and onto your computer screen, and in no particular order.

Fallout 3
Uncharted 2
Suikoden 2
Mass Effect / ME2
Metal Gear Solid followed by any number you can think of
Tales of Somethingendinginia (OK, and the Abyss)
Battlefield: Bad Company
Xbox LIVE:kauza
PSN ID:santakauz
Mii code:kauza


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