Death in Video Games

Friday, May 3, 2013
By: Matthew Doucette

Back in 2010, Dhalamar of Wasted Seconds reviewed Decimation X, our first video game release. The review was a positive one, 8.5/10, with comments such as, "this is THE best shooter in the indie games section of it’s type right now and is definitely worth a buy whether you’re into these or not", but what's most interesting is the conversation about death in video games. I wanted to share that conversation three years later:

Dhalamar writes:

The one big problem I have with the game is the fact that the entire game comes to a SCREECHING halt when you die. You explode, the enemies stop in their tracks and stop shooting, and your character makes his way slowly from the right side of the screen to the left side THEN you start playing again. I can understand WHY it does that, but it just takes me out of it a little bit having to go through that. That’s part of where the infuriating part comes in because of the game just stopping DEAD in it’s tracks when you die. I’m more into “don’t stop the game when one dies. Just respawn them in the same spot with a few valuable seconds of flashing invulnerability”.

- Dhalamar, Wasted Seconds

And, of course, it's in the nature of a video game developer to examine the criticisms more closely than the compliments. This is, after all, where you find the gems of wisdom from which you can grow.

So, I replied with the following, and this is the part I wish to share with you today which inspired me to blog this post today:

I’ll debate the death sequence here, for all those who care.

Death in games have become more and more easy to handle and easy to ignore. Death in our game MATTERS, because it’s a score-running game and every life matters to get the highest score. But in beta-testing, players play as if death doesn’t matter. What is wrong with them? They have gotten so use to playing games as being godlike that they have become weak in their gaming soul. Death matters in our games. It matters without us having to tell you, but we have to tell you. The short pause blasts it in your face that you died and it matters. Some gamers have complained about it, but they have not experienced the alternative, which is no pause at all. This pause was done not by accident, but by design.

We are considering shortening the sequence to find a happy medium, but making it shorter feels wrong to me as I am writing this right now. If you “pass by” the deaths, the game quickly ends from shoddy play and feels incomplete. It truly is unreal how gamers today are given a godlike status in their games. Xona Games is about challenging skill-based games… no surprise we are top rated and best selling in Japan over any other country...

- Matthew Doucette, Xona Games

The part that blows me away, even to read today, is that during beta-testing players played as if death didn't matter. That means they were not trying, nor caring. It makes me ask, what is the point of a video game today? Just filler for boring lives?

Also, I should explain what I meant by gamers are given a godlike status in their games, because it seems unclear even to me today what was meant. Gamers can not do any wrong while playing their games. They are having their hands held and are guided through all the tough parts. Once again I have to push this video from Jonathan Blow which best describes how this is so wrong:

Jonathan Blow: How Mainstream Devs Are Getting It Wrong.

This reminds me of this tweet of mine:

P.S. It's interesting to note that we did shorten the death sequence from Decimation X in both Decimation X2 and Decimation X3. (Please try Decimation X3 if you have an Xbox 360.) So, it's good to know we listen and change our ways. This actually made me feel very good about our game making abilities. It's not often people change their ways. I have proof that we do.


That is all.



About the Author: I am Matthew Doucette of Xona Games, an award-winning indie game studio that I founded with my twin brother. We make intensified arcade-style retro games. Our business, our games, our technology, and we as competitive gamers have won prestigious awards and received worldwide press. Our business has won $190,000 in contests. Our games have ranked from #1 in Canada to #1 in Japan, have become #1 best sellers in multiple countries, have won game contests, and have held 3 of the top 5 rated spots in Japan of all Xbox LIVE indie games. Our game engines have been awarded for technical excellence. And we, the developers, have placed #1 in competitive gaming competitions -- relating to the games we make. Read about our story, our awards, our games, and view our blog.