If you didn’t check out my thoughts on the expectation of survival, here is a link. Now let’s jump into the expectation of revival in gaming.
Death and revival are an interesting topic in games. They are dealt with in a plethora of ways across different genres. Before I talk about how my feelings on this interact with my day-to-day life, I think it’s important to flesh out how games address death and how I (and gamers in general) interpret death within the frame of the game.
Death In Games:
In certain games, many platformers for example, death isn’t really explained at all. It is left very much to the player to create their own interpretation of what “extra lives” or “continuing” means. Perhaps we consider that Mario isn’t really dying; these are all just stumbling blocks that are setting him back and extra lives are a representation of his morale to get back up on his feet. Or perhaps 100 coins is enough to buy a clone version of himself in Mushroom Kingdom and at the bottom of every pit lies the pile of failed jumpers.
In other games, many fighting games for example, we are merely playing out alternate realities. Each character has their own ending as if they have achieved their aspirations (whether that be world domination, world peace, or some simple proof of being the strongest warrior). For example, I can beat Street Fighter with Dhalsim and see a narrative of the consequences that follow.
However, there is a canon narrative. There is a set-in-stone story of the events that took place during Shadaloo’s attempts at world domination or the Third Tekken Tournament. Sometimes deaths occur in this narrative and we see additions and losses through iterations of games (poor Charlie), but the things we experience within the game are just parallel realities of this story and thus death in-game lacks permanence.
RPGs often give some flavor but also leave a lot blank for the player to fill in. Pokemon generally dodges death altogether, suggesting the creatures’ ‘death’ is just a state of incapacitation that can be dealt with by your friendly neighborhood Nurse Joy.
There is a clear difference between narrative deaths and combat deaths that the gamer is left to reconcile. In many RPGs there is a “revive” spell of some sort which is a quick way to get fallen allies back on their feet. Again, I like to think of this as a bit of an “incapacitated” state, where they clearly can’t battle but are not DEAD. It is somewhat like having less than 0 life in recent editions of Dungeons and Dragons. This is how I generally justify not being able to revive the more permanent narrative deaths we see in games.
Fire Emblem is one of the few games that has permadeath. Characters that die are gone for good. That is, unless it is one of the main characters, who can’t die. At this point, we get a “Game Over” screen and return to the previous save – which is another thing entirely to consider.
The “Game Over” is a key component of most games out there. Some games have no need for the presence of death (Harvest Moon), or skirt by the game over concept (Pokemon, MMOs, etc), but a common game trend is to utilize this mechanic for a failed attempt and it is pretty much left to the gamer to find meaning in this.
Perhaps we can see these deaths as something not far off from the fighting game model. There is a ‘canon’ story, and our choices and deaths are just parallel possibilities to the story we are trying to unfold. Another reading of these “Game Over” events may be more along the lines of: I, as an outsider tactician, am merely seeing these possible futures that help me hone in on an appropriate strategy. Or different altogether, maybe I am attached to the permanence of death and start my game over every time my poor tactical decisions lead to a ‘Game Over’, acting as though it is an entirely new experience (thought that’s a scary thought to me).
I personally am a fan of the tactician idea. Perhaps that is slightly influenced by the fact that I am playing Fire Emblem: Awakening at the moment but the idea is neat and one of the most applicable to life, which I will get into in a moment.
I wanted to add an honorable mention to the games 999 and Zero’s Escape. They play with these concepts in some pretty interesting ways and have a unique set of expectations attached to them as visual novels that are video games. I don’t want to say any more on them but highly suggest checking them out, and my brother’s posts if you want to delve into the game design side of it.
The Expectation of Revival… in Life?!?!:
So, we have laid out some of the options of death and how we can perceive death in games (a conversation that I am cutting short because it is begging to go on forever). Let’s consider how this can translate into some life lessons.
Obviously, I don’t go through life with an expectation of revival (in a parallel way to video games I mean… I’m not making any claims on my thoughts of an afterlife). If I walked in front of a speeding truck I wouldn’t expect to just wake up in my bed a moment later, a day earlier. But I think the idea still holds insights relating to 1) a juxtaposition to reality and 2) the tactician’s perspective.
There are always lessons to be learned from having that point-counterpoint relationship. The expectation of revival within games highlights the concept that we are in fact perishable, and at times, fragile. It is often easy to take extra lives in video games for granted, getting drawn into repeated loops of death.
I know I find myself a little more lax about beating a level in Mario when I am sitting on a pile of 99 lives. In RPGs I find myself going into bosses haphazardly with a “test the waters” attitude when there is a save right in front of the boss. It’s worth noting that many older games don’t promote this attitude as much, as lives and saves alike are often few and far between (thinking Final Fantasy III and Battletoads and the like).
There is definitely something to be said for the value of attacking certain problems with a trial and error mindset, and perhaps gamers have been molded to have an upper-hand here. But that is quite a large topic, so I will leave it for another day.
We often don’t have this luxury of taking minimal consequence attempts in life. I can’t “test the waters” with an interview, and then just start the day over again being more prepared than the first try. To this, games act as that counterpoint, presenting how a lackadaisical mindset can be detrimental if translated into many real life situations. There is no room for loops of death with minimal consequences.
This is where the tactician’s mind brings a bit of an uplifting message for me. If we consider “continues” and “save points” in games as branches off of a core path that lead to the canon storyline, then life may not be that far off. It is all tactical musings of possible futures, and our ability to predict certain things and prepare for those we can’t.
Sure, I may not be able to predict exact details on a first try. I may not know a boss’ propensity to use Flare on the third turn, the extent of a stat boost at a threshold HP point, or where and when reinforcements may be called in. Similarly, I can’t go to an interview or a test knowing what exact questions will be asked or the dynamics of how either setting will unfold.
This can’t stop me from trying to predict such things though. If my life is the canon, then my thoughts are the branches. What were previous tests like? Can I talk to someone who had this teacher in a previous year? What are the fundamentals I should know for this test? Who am I interviewing with? Can I get some background information through some google searching or a mutual connection? What are the obvious go-to questions for this kind of position? What are the not so obvious open ended questions that I could expect?
These are all just beginnings to branches of stories that may come to fruition or may lie dormant, never told. These “what ifs” create a world within my mind that try to leave me over prepared for activities and help to shrug off would-be surprises. Even so, just as the canon story that unfolds in games, we will have our bumps and shocks, but that can’t stop us from mitigating what we can. That is the power of the tactician’s mind.
So those are my thoughts on the expectation of survival. Let me know what you guys think in the comments. How do you interpret the “Game Over” screen? And do games leave you with an (unhealthy or healthy) expectation of revival?
I wanted to make a little side note for interesting cross media representations. Scott Pilgrim is coming to mind, which does an amazing job at intertwining the worlds of movie, game, and comic… and, in doing so, has a beautiful sandbox of expectations to play with, including this survival versus revival dynamic.
Thanks for stopping by! Game on and learn on!