A Vanoss gaming quartet exploration of Garry’s Mod, this month, was nearly derailed by a trope so powerful, so consuming, that it threatened to break up the band. The quartet was faced with the possibility that killing Daithi De Nogla (as Zoidberg) over and over was possibly more entertaining than anything else the Gmod sandbox horror could conjure.
While we’ve seen our LP heroes engage in Thanatos-driven death orgies before, this one in particular had a Third Reichy feel to it. After all, you have an Italian plumber (Mussolini’s Mario) an Austrian Terminator cyborg (Hitler’s perfect Aryan death machine), and a zebra-legged (representing the Reich’s advances in North Africa) Wu-Tang disciple ritualistically killing a Yiddish-doctor stereotype.
Despite the pleadings of the Semitic shellfish, his cackling compatriots proceed to paint the hospital walls with his blood over and over again, trying to erase the record of Zoidberg and his crustaceans’ kin from all existence.
How did we get here? How did we find ourselves in a place where one of the most popular LP juggernauts in existence finds its finest moment not in a triumph of strategy or teamwork, but in a celebration of avatar-cide? To answer this question, we must look into the very eyes of death, itself.
“Would it not be better to give death the place in actuality and in our thoughts which properly belong to it, and to yield a little more prominence to that unconscious attitude towards death which we have hitherto so carefully suppressed?
— Sigmund Freud
Game developers are, by nature, entrepreneurs. Their primary objective is to obtain players and retain players. Having a realistic death penalty (character death or perma-death) has gone quickly out of vogue as these devs are loathe to scare players away from persisting through a particular game with too-severe death consequences. We’ve seen where this leads us — to many games (and nearly the entire FPS spectrum) in which death is completely meaningless; games in which players lovingly fling themselves and their friends into the abyss. Constantly dismembering their avatars, knowing that with a wrinkle of the nose and a nod of the head, their avatars will be instantly re-membered and able to go on their merry way.
One game in particular that has fascinated scholars and analysts of video game death, is post-apocalyptic survivalist adventure, Day Z. Day Z is structured so that death is permanent, death erases all of a character’s progress, and the dead avatar’s identity, gear, and achievements go into the ground with him. This realistic mechanism has spawned some of the most interesting and immersive character interaction that we’ve ever seen from an FPS before.
On the one hand, in game griefing (ritualistic sadism) is more thoughtful and creative, as spawn-killing is no longer a possibility:
Here is an amazing interaction: Thadrius, an armed, better equipped vigilante incapacitates his victim, takes his shoes and pants, and engages in a kind of Digital Munchausen by Proxy by pretending to help his victim while feeding him rotten apples and forcing him to drink disinfectant, all while taking him through the paces of a kindly robbery. As the victim slowly sickens, he questions the benevolence of his captor, attempts to run and his hit by a stray bullet. Laying there, covered in his own sick, and slowly passing into the Netherworld, he spurns Thadrius for his cruelty. In a moment of self-realization, Thadrius expresses remorse, attempts to bandage up the bleeding man and recants his behavior. Then, realizing that there is no available medical aid for the man, he reluctantly puts the man out of his misery. This LP has all the emotional gravitas of Old Yeller — as we actually have an opportunity to see a evolution in the character of the protagonist. Is that ever possible in an FPS featuring an orgy of preteen self-annihilation?
Not all Day Z interactions are the stuff of tragedy, though. I leave you with the uplifting epic of Joab Gilroy, aka, the Gentleman Bandit:
You see? Death does indeed give life meaning. At least, according to Yahoo! Answers.