Permadeath in Video Games

Death is not supposed to be the end in video games.  When you encounter a “game over” or “mission lost” you simply hit the A button and push forward. Sure, you may lose some experience points or cash, but overall death has few consequences in this medium.  That is, unless you’re like me and can’t allow yourself to simply jump back to the last checkpoint.

Let’s backtrack a bit.  I’ve mentioned before that I developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder back in seventh grade.  While I’ve shed nearly all of my compulsions in the years since, my one remnant of the disease is the inability to  continue video games once I’ve died.  Coupled with my insistence on playing nearly every video game on its toughest difficulty setting makes most games a serious and extraordinarily frustrating experience.

Of course, I don’t apply this permadeath rule to every single game.  In general, it applies to games where I can upgrade health, role-playing / sandbox games, and strategy games.  This means that I let myself die in most first and third person shooters.

Every section with a sniper in Halo 2 would have been impossible otherwise.

Why do I make myself play this way?  For one thing, it just feels right.  If you’re playing a role-playing game, the point (at least for me) is to immerse yourself fully in that world.  Therefore, if you’re dead you’re dead.  If it’s a strategy game, the point is that you can command an army or win a war.  Losing means the war’s over.  If I can upgrade my health, I feel that the game is offering you a way to improve your character and prevent death; actually dying subverts and means you have failed irrevocably.  This stance, combined with my OCD, all but makes it impossible to hit continue in these games.  I’ve tried it a couple times, but I just end up feeling like I’ve failed and derive no enjoyment from further play.

mission failure

Well, there goes ten hours of my life.

The only game I’ve ever really been able to make an exception for is Mass Effect, and even then I’ll only continue the game if I’m past level 35 or so (roughly 10 or more hours into the game).  I’ve easily wasted hundreds of hours of my life restarting games where I’m many hours deep because I’ve died.  I spent the past two weeks restarting Crackdown about a dozen times because I keep randomly getting blown to bits 2 hours in.

About the only benefit to this method of gaming is that success feels so unbelievably sweet.  When you beat XCOM Enemy Unknown on Classic Ironman it feels like you really turned the tide of war and prevented Earths’ destruction.  Finishing Bioshock without losing a single life makes you feel like the biggest badass in Rapture.

good ending

And the reward all the more meaningful.

But the many hours lost and that painful feeling of despair when a dozen hours of play goes down the drain more than balances it out.  I’d love to hear if anyone else plays games this way or if anyone has any tips for moving past this compulsion.  I don’t get a chance to game much these days, but if I do get back around to playing Crackdown on my next vacation I’d rather not waste thirty hours getting blown up by random Volk rockets.


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I'm a 24 year-old veterinary student, novelist, & aspiring screenwriter. I'm trying out this blogging thing in my spare time.

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