In an article about the problem gamic narratives face in representation of death, Jason Tocci writes:
“Here, the object of analysis is not the characters the player kills, but the death of the player’s own character. Death is considered here not as morally problematic or dangerous to audiences, but as an unnecessary narrative disruption due to the typical game structure of trial-and-error, die-and-retry. Video games may be the only narrative medium in which the death of the protagonist isn’t just devoid of drama, but is entirely routine. If players have any emotional reaction, it is usually frustration rather than reflection”
Tocci, I think, raises the issue of playability and narrative thrust/effectiveness. The question becomes: how can I make a playable/entertaining game that, in the case its developers craft it to have a compelling narrative, still renders the player-character’s deaths into meaningful, authentic moments?
There is this simple fact: death loses its gravitas, its solemnity, when it comes packaged with a quick restart. Even when the punishment for dying is severe (a loss of all of your accumulated gear a la Runescape, or a loss of all of your souls a la Dark Souls), the emotions felt by the player often amount to frustration. It does not feel like a death; it is seemingly impossible to generate the affect of filmic or novelistic narratives. Tocci does allude to the famous Final Fantasy VII death scene. While this sequence proverbially tugs at the player’s heartstrings, the problem remains that, assuming the player has failed previously, those deaths still has not meant much to player other than as a source of frustration. Certain deaths are given more weight than others, but the ones that matter appear to be those the developer has control over. But if you make the game too easy so that the player does not experience an ‘unemotional’ or trivialized death, would the game be any fun?
While I did not find this article prior to writing my close play of Inside, I believe my paper provides an example of a game that works to infuse death with player pain. Inside, despite its trial-and-error mechanic, subverts the trivialization of death, countering the problem Tocci finds in many games. I won’t go into detail explaining how Playdead imbues affect and genuine suffering in their player-character’s deaths as I have already done that in my close play. But even in the case of Inside, if the player dies enough, he/she–I imagine–beings to be desensitized with the protagonist’s deaths. I end my post here still pondering what the best balance is.
Tocci, Jason. “You Are Dead. Continue?”: Conflicts and Complements in Game Rules and Fiction.” Eludamos. Journal for Computer Game Culture, 2008, www.eludamos.org/index.php/eludamos/article/view/43/81