Some comments over at Zen of Design sparked this one… specifically this post on death penalties, and this follow-up on death penalties in general.  (And after all, is there a more appropos time to ruminate about the themes of death and resurrection than immediately after Easter Sunday?)

In the second post, Damion points out some of the problems related to imposing hefty death penalties on the players, and that there are alternatives even within existing perspectives which effectively target different types of players and styles of play.  For my part, I have no huge argument with much of what he writes… in relation to the basic paradigm of MMO/CRPG games today.

“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.”
– Walter Lippman 

My problem is that I’m not willing to take any of it and raise it to the level of “universal constant”, which is the way most of the writing comes across.  This was the nit I would have picked with Psychochild’s insta-classic April Fools Day rant, as well.  To my mind, dismissing ideas out of hand (even if it is the 157th time you’ve heard something like it) is a great way to miss the next good one.  Context is everything, after all.

“The ability to innovate is only as good as how one can accept changes and take risks.”
– Franco Paolo Liu Eisma

To pick an attenuated example, if I was looking to make an MMO based on a “victim RPG” like Cthulhu, Chill, or Paranoia, or just more generally in the horror genre, some implementation of character perma-death is almost required… that’s about as close to a core concept of that particular genre as you can get.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.  Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
– Scott Adams

That’s not to say that you couldn’t take generic-fantasy-RPG-design-number-1376, fill it with Deep Ones (Murlocs-on-steroids) and Shoggoth, with the end game instance being 40 god-like characters going mano-a-mano with the Cthulhu Boss Monster in his sunken R’lyeh throne room, and stamp it all “Mythos Online!”… but to say you missed the point would be the understatement of the modern era.

“[They] became too wise and knew too much.  In particular they knew all the reasons why things were impossible and why nothing more could be achieved… And in the past, it had always been the younger generations, too naive and inexperienced to recognize the impossible when they saw it, who had been foolish enough to make the attempt.  It was surprising how often they succeeded.”
– from Giant’s Star, by James P. Hogan

Only a lower case “d”

There’s also the little issue I have with calling what is currently labeled “death” in these games by that name in the first place.  By MMO standards, I’ve died a half-dozen times myself in real-life…

  • 5 years old, fell out of moving car due to playing with the door handle (this was before automated door locks), lost consciousness.  Each forearm was essentially one big scab for weeks.  Check.
  • 7 years old, lost a “fight” (is it really a fight if you never even get to swing?) with a 4th grader during lunch, woke up in the nurse’s office.  Didn’t even get a nice shiner out of it.  (Yes, I could be a sarky little wise-ass even then, why do you ask?)  Check.
  • 10 years old, lost control of bike doing the “no-hands” thing.  Full-on face plant, which probably explains a few things, now that I think about it… wake up tasting bloody gravel, or gravelly blood, same difference.  Check.
  • 13 years old, trip and tumble down a 30-foot, 45 degree slope, bouncing off every blasted tree on the way down, I’d bet.  Lost a good 10 minutes that time… decent shiner, tho.  Check.
  • 25 years old, rear-ended by pickup truck that apparently didn’t notice the stoplight had turned red.  I never used the trunk on that old junker anyway.  Seat belt basically did its job, I suppose, but I’m still tasting blood when the daylight returns.  Check.
  • 37 years old, slip on ice patch heading to check my mailbox.  During my unplanned nap it apparently decides to snow, light dusting on me by the time I come to.  Sizable goose egg for a few days to show for it, but the doc doesn’t even give me enough material to make up an excuse to take a few days off.  Lucky me.  Check.

Then there are the times when by all rights I would have been Dead, with a capital D, had it gone down a little differently… the robbery at gunpoint in a deserted Oklahoma rest-stop… the semi travelling sideways sliding up behind me in an otherwise typical Minnesota blizzard/commute.  Even a comfy, boring life nestled deep in American suburbia can have it’s moments, I guess.

The point is, what passes for death in MMOs isn’t “death” anyway.  It is unconsciousness, not “death”.   It gets abstracted into “death”, mainly because emulating the wait for the lights to come back on would be about as engaging as watching paint dry if you didn’t create other things to do during the “intermission”, and no one wants to bother trying to do that… aren’t there enough other details to worry about?

So, what’s the point of this little tirade, this tempest in a teapot?  I guess it’s simply that perhaps changing perspectives will offer new ideas and opportunities… including ones that won’t ever come to mind by accepting a proclamation like “perma-death is stupid” as a universal truth.

For example, I’d like to try an implementation where when a character is knocked unconscious, they go into a little dream sequence mini-instance, and successful completion revives the character and grants the character special bonuses for a time.  I’d like to explore game designs where a player can choose to let a character die (yes, “perma-death”) in certain situations, in return for substantial inherent bonuses while building a replacement character.  Heck, in a victim game, I’d want to offer bonuses for “original” Deaths, and make part of the player’s bragging rights the length of his list thereof.

CoH/CoV already gives a “killed” character an opportunity to continue to play a role in group combat even after “death”, by allowing the passing of inspirations while “dead”… there are some possible expansions on that concept that I’ve been noodling around for a bit, too.

Of course, I’m just being naive and inexperienced.