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.
LOOK WHO CAME: