A short post about perma-death and heartbreak

The concept of perma-death has been permeating its way through games these days. Mostly seen in rogue-like or squad based tactical combat titles, perma-death can be defined as:

a situation in which player characters die permanently and are removed from the game.

In a generalized sense, players are provided one go around with their character(s). If they die, they have to start from the beginning. One life, one death, roll credits.

In games that have a single player-character relationship, such as Don’t Starve (Klei Entertainment, 2013), you can save your progress as you go along. This extends playtime with your character, often forming an emotional connection to that character. But, once the intrepid gentleman scientist Wilson gets trampled by a moosegoose, that save file is deleted and Pancake Wilson is no more. In some cases you can prevent the deletion of this file with some item or spell, but generally speaking death = dead. And the death of Wilson can be heartbreaking! You helped him through cold nights, made him a home, helped him grow a majestic wilderness beard; why didn’t you run away Wilson? Whyyyyyyyyyy????

Some squad based tactical games will have perma-death in an “iron man” mode. This mode will override a single save file every turn, giving the decisions you make even more gravity than before; and again, long play times provide an opportunity for emotional connections to be made. When playing Ironman mode in the X-COM successor Xenonauts (Goldhawk Interactive, 2014) the death of a squad member will persist for the rest of the game. This can be devastating if you have brought that Captain; who won a Crimson Heart, Survival Medal, and Long Service Medal (seriously, this dude has seen some stuff) up from a wee private. This calls your judgement into question; “oh God where did I go wrong??? Why did I let Captain Timmy walk bast that unreasonably huge alien???” and often leads to the player (at least me anyway) wishing they could bring that person back.

Perma-death is meant to add a sense of realism to play; and by spending time with these characters we form some emotional connections, taking care to keep them out of harms way because we love them, and we want them to stick around. Like the perviously mentioned titles, in the real game of life we only get one go around; death is pretty much permanent.

I’m so sorry Wilson!


Did you suffer a perm-death heartbreak? Let me know in the comments here, or tweet me: @adamthegameguy

I’m participating in the AdventureJam Game Jam (should I include perm-death???)! Over the next two weeks I’ll be posting updates here, on my GameJolt account, and on my twitter so check in there!

Disclaimer: I was not paid to say these things, I legit love these games.


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