Don?t Kill Me Bro! The highs and lows of player character?s deaths
Posted by c280668993 on April 8th, 2013
Leonardo DiCaprio dies in the Great Gatsby. I started with that little The Elder Scrolls time card tidbit because killing off your main character is something that’s been used for as long as we told stories. Beowulf for example died when a dragon poisoned him.
Shakespeare used to do it all the time; Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Julius Ceasar, all of them died to serve as some sort of lesson to the audience or to move the story forward. Even Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes off and only because of fan outcry he brought him back.
At the risk of getting my face punched in by a few of my haute writer friends and several of my old college professors I say video games have a natural ability to engage the audience on a emotional level that traditional literature can’t touch. But it’s unfortunate that certain tropes that work well in books don’t work nearly as well in a video game. Many many many of you can agree that the interactivity creates a deep emotional bond between the player and the game. The story becomes your story. So when the player character dies in a cut scene it becomes frustrating if its not handled properly.
The first time I personally encountered it was with COD: Modern Warfare. You guys know the scene I’m talking about, the end of Shock and Awe. They discover the nuke, the Marines are EVAC’ing, everything is going crazy and then BOOM goes the nuke. The shockwave from the nuke brings down Paul’s helicopter, but he’s still alive. For a minute or two he walks around. The city looks like something out of Fallout, and then suddenly he drops dead.
I’m pretty sure “holy crap” is a fair description of what we felt. In that scene killing off Sgt. Paul Jackson was an excellent narrative choice. There wasn’t enough of a connection to Jackson in order to create a tight bond. He didn’t speak and we didn’t know what he looked like; but with the FPS viewpoint and the fact they showed him struggling for life it forced players to confront death as
permanent and scary. Plus it had the advantage of being the first game to actually kill off the player character (to my personal knowledge) so it had that going for it too. So when COD: Modern Warfare 2 rolled around it wasn’t as nearly shocking when Infinity Ward killed off every other player character. It was annoying, repetitive, and sterile.
After getting shot in the face when at the end of No Russian and then getting blown into deep space at the end of Second Sun Roach’s death lost the emotional impact that it could have had. They even set him on fire, alive! And yet I still didn’t feel much but annoyance. After all if a player thinks that a character is going to die in a game why would they develop feelings for them?
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