ByMarcus O'Shea, writer at Creators.co
Resident RPG nerd and SoulsBorne fanatic. Can be spotted by their floofy hair.
Marcus O'Shea

Death is often a fact of life in video games; from the most gritty military shooter to the most brightly-colored action game, death is a fail state.

For the most part, these games deal with death in very similar ways—you die, you hit continue, you start again from some kind of checkpoint, whether it's the beginning of the level or some mid-point. But what about the games that do something different?

The Most Interesting Approaches To Death In Games

There are some that take death to new places, whether mechanically or narratively, these titles turn the traditional approaches to death on their head.

Going Beyond Death In 'Dark Souls'

The death mechanics of 'Dark Souls' reinforces the atmosphere of hopelessness [Credit: Bandai Namco]
The death mechanics of 'Dark Souls' reinforces the atmosphere of hopelessness [Credit: Bandai Namco]

The series, as well as their predecessor Demon Souls and the exclusive , all have a unique approach to death. Not only is death considered almost an inevitability in these games, but its inevitability is deeply entwined with the themes and narrative of the games.

In all of these titles, players who find themselves killed will reawaken at a certain point, much like the standard checkpoint system that most games use. However, because the player character is undead (or in the case of Bloodborne, trapped within a dream), they have not truly died. The accumulated experience of the player will be left near the point of their death, as a 'bloodstain', if you reach that bloodstain without dying again, you'll recuperate everything you lost.

The bloodstain system lets you learn from the mistakes of others as well. [Credit: Bandai Namco]
The bloodstain system lets you learn from the mistakes of others as well. [Credit: Bandai Namco]

Despite the fact that this system is actually more forgiving than a standard checkpoint system, the constant cycle of death and recuperation creates an atmosphere of hopelessness, as if the struggle against death was a task as impossible as playing a Bethesda game without hilarious bugs.

FromSoft games also work death into their multiplayer system—people who die will leave behind a bloodstain in the world of other players as well, when touched, these bloodstains will show a phantom version of the last few seconds of the dead player's life. Through this system, other people can learn from your death; if you accidentally opened a chest disguised as a monster and got eaten, your bloodstain near the chest will warn another unwary player of what happened, letting them escape the same fate.

Disposable Bodies In 'Let It Die'

Let it Die does the opposite of making death matter, which works with its nihilistic, splatterpunk attitude. [Credit: GungHo Online]
Let it Die does the opposite of making death matter, which works with its nihilistic, splatterpunk attitude. [Credit: GungHo Online]

When you die in Grasshopper Manufacture's new game , you don't actually die. Instead, your meat puppet 'fighter' (one of many you keep stored in a freezer) gets 'haterfied'—turned into an enemy that stalks the area of their death in both yours and other player's games. You have multiple options to deal with this punishment, you can salvage your dead fighter for gold, abandon them to their fate and make a new character or hunt them down and kill them to return them to your stock.

While most games encourage you to identify heavily with your player character, Let it Die does the opposite. Your character is nothing but a bag of bones to be used, discarded and replaced, just like the items and weapons you find inside the Tower of Barbs. Instead of making death matter, Let it Die makes death a hilarious triviality, as absurd as the ridiculous weapons you use and the buckets of neon blood that spurt from enemies upon death.

Dynasties Of Death In 'Rogue Legacy', Total War And 'Crusader Kings'

In some games, death is simply the end of your character—no respawning, no bloodstains to collect and no checkpoints. However, this doesn't mean the end of the game. Rogue Legacy is a roguelike platformer that replaces your character with a descendent of theirs every time they die. Each child possesses unique traits, some good, some bad. One character might be a near-sighted giant, the next, a colorblind dwarf with flatulence.

The strategy game series Total War and Crusader Kings take things a step further than Rogue Legacy. These games take place over hundreds of years, with time passing each turn. Instead of one character to control, you have dozens who all age, die and (hopefully), give birth to heirs. A great king may meet his end by a heart attack or an assassin's blade, suddenly leaving your dynasty in the hands of his idiot son who you've neglected in the corner of the world for 30 years.

Life goes on when characters die in 'Crusader Kings 2' [Credit: Paradox Interactive]
Life goes on when characters die in 'Crusader Kings 2' [Credit: Paradox Interactive]

The coolest effect of these systems is the accidental narratives they can create. Because of the randomly generated traits, you might be stuck with an unwanted heir or character who is say, a syphilitic alcoholic who's half blind. Obviously, you want to get rid of them as soon as possible, but once in a while these characters might simply refuse to die; suddenly the diseased, blind alcoholic is the veteran and victor of a dozen brutal, hopeless battles, a war-hardened monster of the battlefield who's feared the world over.

Death And Time Loops

Save the date uses time loop mechanics to make a meta commentary about death in games. [Credit: Paper Dino Software]
Save the date uses time loop mechanics to make a meta commentary about death in games. [Credit: Paper Dino Software]

The concept of a time loop isn't unusual in other mediums, almost any supernatural or sci-fi TV show has had at least one episode that traps a character in a time loop until they find a way to save someone's life or solve a scenario.

Things get much more interesting when the same scenario is used in a game—the inherently interactive nature and the legacy of save/load mechanics and checkpoints turns the concept into a commentary on the very nature of death and failure in games.

In Save The Date, you play what appears to be a visual novel dating game, however, things quickly turn strange when your date is killed in some fashion. If you restart the scenario, you retain the knowledge of what just happened and can actually save them, only to have something even more unlikely kill them. It quickly becomes apparent that the universe, or at least the game itself, wants your date dead, and there's nothing you can do to stop it, no matter how many times you loop, or is there?

12 Minutes gives you the titular amount of time to escape a time loop and your own inevitable death. [Credit: Luis Antonion]
12 Minutes gives you the titular amount of time to escape a time loop and your own inevitable death. [Credit: Luis Antonion]

The upcoming 12 Minutes presents a similar scenario, except the victim of unlikely fate is you. You play as a hapless office worker who comes home from a normal day, within 12 minutes, you're dead. Each time you restart the loop, you can use your knowledge to attempt to escape your fate, which usually lands you in an even more absurd situation.

These games take the concept of the fail state, as well as the old "new game +" feature, and turn it into a part of the narrative. What if death, instead of halting your progress, became necessary to advance? And if people die horribly each time you loop, maybe it's a kinder action to stop looping at all?

There are some that take death to new places, whether mechanically or narratively, these titles turn the traditional approaches to death on their head.

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