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WoWJun 23, 2023 8:00 am CT

How does death in games affect you?

Let’s start this by stating that I don’t want to die. That’s for certain. But, since Diablo 4 is basically a playable memento mori, death as portrayed in-game is rather top of mind at the moment.

Dying just plain stinks in Diablo 4. It’s a predestined frustration for players; but for mortals within the narrative, it always happens (spoiler) in the worst possible way. But, at least the player gets to power through and to continue getting all the loot in most cases. Unless you’re Hardcore. Then, well, gods, goddesses, and other spiritual idealizations bless you. Certain deaths, much like Aerith‘s in Final Fantasy 7, are outside of the agency of the player, which is doubly frustrating.

In World of Warcraft, death is just a momentary inconvenience as expressed through game mechanics, relative to the distance to your character’s corpse or the money required to repair equipment. Some corpse runs are definitely worse than others. Storywise, however, death in WoW gives me the existential heebie-jeebies. It’s horrifying to think that if your soul actually survives death, it’s possibly gonna be exploited for fuel to power starships or for automatons or weapons; be stripped of its identity to serve necessity; or tortured for eons as rehabilitation and/or sustenance for a decadent aristocracy.

And, well, the apologetics for the depiction of death in The Shadowlands make it even worse. If Uther Lightbringer’s appearance as a consultable spirit on Azeroth can be reconciled with his Shadowlands version due to the splitting of his soul by Arthas, it can be construed there is a version of Pamela Redpath being tortured in Revendreth (if an animal can, she can) or transformed into some spider-thing sniper in Maldraxxus or anything else.

When it comes to other computer games, I would shudder to actually calculate the chances that you’re going to die in Oregon Trail, but so many players die of dysentery, it becomes funny. In Dungeons of Daggorath, my physical heart would pound as the wireframe graphics faded to black while my in-game heart rate beat out a death metal tempo.

I could keep going, but the portrayal of death in other types of fictional media and its emotional effects can wait for another discussion. As always, let us know your thoughts on the topic in the comment section.

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