The Way We Game: Death and Its Influence on Strategy – PART II

Check out Part I here.


Ah, yes. The Tactical Martyr. It’s fairly easy to think of games that fit this description without having to elaborate simply based on the name. Call of Duty. Halo. Fire Emblem. X-Com. Mario.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Those games are drastically different, right? Right! But they are all similar in the fact death is looked at in a tactical perspective, where there are consequences for losing a teammate or character. These types of games tend to have a more match-like setting, where you fight more for completing one chunk at a time rather than progressing the story.

Within the category of the Tactical Martyr, there are two subcategories. One is for MMORPGs and one is for regular RPGs, as death is cast in different lights in each.

A lot of popular MMORPGs fall into this category, and part of it is due to how death is dealt. In MMOs, there tends to be some aspect of team play, whether it is getting a full set of character types, fighting towards an objective, or sweeping a dungeon. Often there is a focus on one character – your character – but alliances with other real-world individuals are formed, creating a social dynamic of favoritism. Whether it’s playing with your best buddy, girl friend, or that 12-year old from Germany who only just discovered how to say cuss words in English, you have already formed opinions as to how valuable the lives of those teammates are and what you’re willing to do for them in return.

Death in these game types is not a permanent thing. There is usually some type of easily reversible punishment for dying, such as a loss of XP (go farm) or respawn time (wait). Death itself becomes easily countered if you’re willing to pay the price. So in a world when you’re playing with friends, you ask yourself, “is it better to attempt to save them by putting myself in harms way or should I stay out of it?” With these factors, death becomes the weighing of consequences. Though you might have your own personal goals, such as getting the best loot and customization of your character, your ultimate goal does not have to be preservation of your character because preservation of your team could be seen as equally important. Heck, preservation of your girl friend’s character might be even more important to you than preservation of your own (you want her to like the game, right?). On the flip side, griefing that kid who keeps calling you a noob feels pretty rewarding, even if you die a few times trying to do so. This obviously affects how you play.

In contrast, in a regular RPG like Fire Emblem or X-Com, you’re given a team. Some characters are inherently deemed more important than others and are sometimes awarded a name or backstory instead of just the position of a grunt. This hierarchy allows for a degree of imprinting and favoritism among the characters, making some more important than others in order to complete a match. At times, you might sacrifice a lesser character in order to assure your character or your favorite characters survive until the end of the match (chess is a perfect example. Just saying).

Mario is a fairly classic, over-the-top example of this. Remember all those times you needed that extra jump and dropped Yoshi to his death? You might have felt a little bad, but you still were willing to sacrifice him in order to get Mario over that gap. Or what about those times you fool-heartedly went on a death mission in order to stop Yoshi from running all over the screen, even when you really didn’t need him at the time? That’s showing favoritism. That’s altering how you play the game.

To conclude, once death is incorporated in this manner, where there are consequences for losing a character, where it be finite or simply warrants punishment, it does modify how you play the game.  Once you’re able to imprint on a character, deeming it important for whatever reason, it becomes a game of balancing the scales one way or another, sometimes playing for your own advantage and sometimes putting yourself on the line for someone else.

The third type: The Compulsive Saver


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