Coming to terms with being human.


Death as a Feature

I like the Massively Multi-Player Online Role-playing Games. I am not playing any right now (they’re freaking addictive!) but I do keep up on their progress. I am looking for one to break the formulaic mold that has developed over the years (hack, slash, level up…repeat) with no success. So I have been thinking about a new approach to death that could shake things up.

Designers really struggle with player death. In the violent worlds of these games the necessary death of a player avatar and the need to keep the player playing can be a source of tension. Add to that the desire to make the brand’s story consistent. When Star Wars went Massive the decision to “clone” players back to life was controversial. Cloning technology is, of course, banned in the post-Clone Wars universe, so how are tens of thousands of players getting access to this technology? As if there weren’t enough problems in the world. This sort of difficulty crops up in all the games. How can you be killed in the most player friendly way possible? To my knowledge, all the Massives have settled on a resurrection based death system: and this causes problems.

Making death matter is important. Many of the most hated social problems in gaming are results of a weak reaper. In Groundhog Day, Phil Conners commits suicide repeatedly due to the effects of a time loop and the resultant immortality it produced. Isn’t it just as likely that you would kill others indiscriminately if Death took a holiday? I know I would.
Public Service Announcement: Stay away from me in the event of non-heavenly immortality

Well, In the low consiquence worlds of MMORPGs social problems like random murder happen all the time and chat based flame wars don't stop it.

Anyway, I have thought of a new death paradigm for MMORPGs. It’s based in reincarnation not resurrection. It goes like this.

Create an avatar. Play avatar. Eventually get hacked/fireballed/etc to death. Create new avatar with only a remnant of the past avatar’s stat and skill set to build on. Continue.

A reincarnational system makes death matter. As a result, player interactions would develop differently in these games than in resurrection games. Gamers would think twice about attacking someone if their present avatar is at all interesting. Or perhaps players would care more about the path of their experience than the actual character they are playing. Players may also be more likely to experiment with various types of avatars, since the time spent playing something new isn’t absolutely wasted, but is folded into the experience of the next avatar.

The necessary rethinking of the game experience could result in a new genre of game. Game balance would dictate a less deadly world (creating a new avatar every few hours would be pretty lame). Adventures, instances, or what have you could be based around breadth of skill instead of levels. Due to the “remnant effect” of reincarnation, long time players could develop vast skill sets while still being low leveled in their present avatar.
So yeah, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. I could write a paper or two on the implications but I’ve already bored you all to tears. So to wrap this up, I think everything boils down to one lesson. Um...let's see.

Death is good?


  • At 1:31 AM , Anonymous Kyle said...

    Next time I talk with a game dev around RPI I'll bring this up ^_^


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