Linked episode 51 Memorable Game Deaths to this thread.
I just listened to this episode and I’m interested in reading that paper. I have a couple of pretty impactful ones that came to my mind that are more for the aftermath of the death.
Life is strange
Kate’s suicide probably caught a lot of people off guard and it feels all the more permanent that this time reversal power that has been established throughout the game has been temporarily taken away from you. What I found more shocking was how everybody seemed to captalise on her death by making it all about themselves with how much of a good friend they were when in reality prior to her death they seemed to relentlessly bully her. I have not played this game in a long time and I believe there is a narrow way to avoid this but it happens in most peoples experience with the game.
Doki-Doki Literature Club
This game is so unique. Everything about Sayori’s death is disturbing, the suddeness, the image, the change of music and how the game just ends on that. Then it is just so startling when you reload the game from the start with every trace of her gone and nobody acknowledges her existence at all. Its like groundhog day with an essiental foundation missing, the absense makes everything feel completely off. You spend so much time getting to know this character and it seems all the more affecting that you got a sense of her thoughts from the time spent reading her personal poetry. The utter powerless way when you try to reload a previous save to find that those too have been wiped. With narrative games like these the player manipulates the system to try and get a disired outcome but its so refreshing to have a game that flips that dynamic back around onto the player. The way Monika dies is so original, how you have physically open up the games files and delete her from the game. I also really like how you can finally hear Monika sing in the credits about the themes of the game after constantly hearing that melody & only ever reading dialogue, its such a nice way to close it off.
Also as a bonus just for fun there is a cutesy little puzzle platformer called Mr. Karoshi where the goal is to die. Avoid 'em smooches at all costs because those deadly spikes will turn into flowers! https://youtu.be/DgQ5XwPUCaI
I have three that really stand out for me as memorable, both for the game design aspect, and also for the raw emotional feelings that they invoked in me.
After 6-8 hours of getting to know Noble Team, and watching them slowly be picked off one way or the other during the campaign, you start a final level with a single objective. “SURVIVE”. The player is in a seemingly endless desert with a small base in the center, beset on all sides by the enemy. My first run in with this level (one that I replayed several times after) was on Normal difficulty, I followed the objective. Traditionally in games you check off objectives to progress, those of you who have played this game know that you are meant to die at this point. Throughout the game, if you took lethal damage, you’d see a short death and a quick re-spawn a ways back to try again. However after about 20 minutes of trying to hold off progressively more and more of the alien enemy, I got cornered in the base and died. Immediately it was apparent that it wasn’t a normal death, as I took more and more damage my visor cracked and my HUD failed, and when I finally took enough, the game entered a cutscene showing the death of your character you had played for so many hours in first person, the final moment being an alien standing over you holding an energy sword above, and then thrusting forward into blackness. This is the first instance of planned death that I had seen in game design at the end of a game, I had seen before at the beginning as a way of introducing a plot element or some mechanic but never as the final moments. It really stuck with me due to the futility of spending a good amount of time fending off the enemy with the expectation of rescue or some deus-ex-machina to continue forward. I’m a really big fan of bleak or “sad” endings where the heroine fails, or the plucky team doesn’t quite save the day. Reach stands out as an excellent example of subversion of expectations through game design, and a quiet, desperate struggle to survive that ultimately results in failure.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Through the whole game you play a character beset on all sides by whispers and hallucinations, often telling you to stop, or give up, or that it’s pointless to try. And as you push your way past these detractors and carry the head of your loved one into the depths of Hell, you learn to ignore them, aside from the times where they can provide a little bit of context to a puzzle “Stay in the light” or when an unseen enemy is behind you they may say “look out behind you”. I think it’s a nice melding of traditional western and eastern permutations of schizophrenia or other hallucinatory manifestations, as Tanya Lurhmann explores in an article in the British Journal of Psychiatry. The basis is that Western manifestation tends to be more hostile, than Eastern cases where voices can be ancestral, or positive/guiding influences. At the end of the game, you throw yourself at the last boss, and the voices coalesce into one command “GIVE UP”. Repeated again and again while you fight enemy after enemy and dodge attack after attack. I sat there fighting for almost thirty minutes, until I decided to actually listen to the voices. When I fell, so did the monstrous illusion I was fighting. And with it came a realization that my expectation again like Reach, was subverted. Ultimately it became a very powerful narrative tool, the act of giving up, something that is so overwhelmingly decried in any form in society (as I see it anyways).
The Last of Us
The other two take place at the end, and I mentioned the game design mechanic of an early death of “psych-out” that you weren’t playing the main character at all. However TLoU caught me entirely by surprise with the death of Joel’s daughter. Not 15 minutes after the start of the game, after a desperate run through a city infested with zombies, you stumble up a path to see a flashlight of a soldier. Salvation. Except he orders you to stop, and you enter a real-time cutscene or sorts, in that there’s not camera shift. You are desperate to get your daughter to safety after she’s been injured prior. The soldier seems like salvation, an organized presence, someone representative of safety. He radios back to his commander, and is told to do something he questions, ultimately submitting, and raising his rifle to point at you and your daughter in your arms. You dive to the side, and a friend shoots him, but it’s too late, a horrifically well acted cry comes from Sarah in your arms, and you are forced to watch the slow, crying, helpless death or your daughter in your arms as she bleeds to death from the gunshot wound that caught her in the stomach. Immediately following her last gasp, the game cuts to the opening credits, and you are left in stunned silence short of the mournful guitar hallmark of the game’s soundtrack, and if you are like me, your own racking sobs. This one wrecks EVERY time I see it, I’ve played through it myself three times, and watched others play several more. It always hits me just as hard, the failure to protect someone so close to you, that you’ve known as the player for a quarter hour. I think the biggest reason it hit me so hard was the quality of the voice acting, I worked on an ambulance for 7 years, and the crying/pained sounds are too close to reality for me. I know it hit just as hard for other people as well, nearly everyone I’ve seen play it has teared up at the very least. I think for me it represents the pinnacle of emotional death in video games, because it creates such a profound moment, in so little time, with such painful efficacy.
The Last of Us opening is a very memorable one for me too, I think a big part of it is having the game tutorial (how to navigate and interact with the game space) be played from Joel’s daughter’s perspective. The player embodies her, and connects to the game through her, making her death that much more impactful in the moment. I might even call it a cheap shot, as far as attempting to get your player emotionally invested, but DAMN if it didn’t work perfectly. It feeds so well into the rest of the story, and Joel’s character development (or lack thereof) and his relationship with Ellie throughout the rest of the game. The player, like Joel, can’t ever really escape from that event, and how it made you feel, because it colors every aspect of the game experience from the get-go.
Thank you so much for sharing your memorable death examples!! These were very enjoyable to read
Y’all I’m with Kelli but when Cortana died in halo 4 I think, I was like sad because she was such like the only friend of master chief. It was like Master Chief and Cortana against the world and she was a direct connection between Master Chief and us, the player. I don’t know if I’m weird but like I haven’t played too many RPGs in my life and the first game I ever played on the Xbox 360 was Halo reach and I think that’s the first and only game I will be able to play fully through in Hardcore mode. Another character death that sucked was when I deleted Dark Souls 3 on my computer because my disk was full and now I don’t want to install it again because I think my characters that I play for 60+ hours each are gone. And I played with my friend and the character is like a memory of that time together. FeelsBadMan. Sorry for a late response just listened to this podcast and was like wtf when I heard Kelly was the only one talking about an FPS.