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Death happens in games.  A lot.

Well, or at least it used to.  This episode of the Moving Pixels Podcast considers the changing face of death in video games as well as what kinds of roles death serves in games. 

Is death about punishment, pleasure, pedagogy, or is it merely an immersion breaking illusion?  We play around with a number of possibilities.

I only beat Dead Rising: Case Zero on my third attempt. In Case Zero, Chuck Green and his zombie-bitten daughter, Katey, get stranded in a small town overrun by the undead. In 12 hours, the military will arrive to wipe them all out, and in that time, Chuck must get Katey a dose of Zombrex to stop her from turning zombie and build a motorcycle to escape the small town.

Zombies play a big role in Dead Rising, but they’re not your main antagonist, which is a good thing because by themselves zombies are boring. They’re slow, stupid, and easy to kill. They may be disgusting, but they’re not particularly scary unless they’re in a horde. The two most popular zombie games, Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead, use zombies as a starting point for horror.

by Rick Dakan

23 Sep 2010


Screenshot from Civilization V (2K Games, 2010)

It’s no doubt telling that two of my clearest memories from my first attempt at graduate school are getting into a fight with my advisor and spending a whole snow-bound winter week sealed away in my dorm room playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms on my Sega Genesis. As you might expect, neither one was conducive to getting a master’s degree, and I didn’t. But I didn’t go down without a fight and part of that fight involved swearing off any more computer strategy games. I unplugged the Genesis and got out of the dorm room. Instead of the library I went to play tabletop RPGs with some new friends, resulting in my first paid writing gig and a nice career despite that final blow up with my prof. But that’s another story. The important take away here is that I have a propensity for losing many a potentially productive day to turn-based strategy games.

by Scott Juster

22 Sep 2010


The "Laughing Dog" of Duck Hunt (Nintendo, 1985).

Mel Brooks doesn’t strike me as an avid video game player, but his famous description of comedy does a great job of describing how many games approach humor: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

In video games, even the most linear scenarios require a relatively high amount of participation from people who in other media would be considered the “audience.”  For a game to use comedy in a way that truly utilizes the medium’s strength, it needs to include more than passive dialogue jokes and amusing sight gags.  Just as an adventure game gives the player control over the hero’s actions, a comedy thrusts them into a situation where they actively participate in creating humorous situations.

It’s difficult to create the smooth, yet improvisational feel of a stand-up routine or sketch comedy bit within a game.  Whether it is players working with other players or humans working with AI routines, creating the spontaneity integral to effective comedy is challenging the confines of most games’ rules.  To circumvent this, many games approach humor through digital slapstick or virtual practical jokes.  In doing so, they practice the odd habit of inviting the player to participate in pranking themselves.

Spirituality and gaming: surely a toxic combination if ever there was one? The former is—however broadly defined—about the serious task of attempting to engage with forces beyond the material realm, while the latter is often about sitting on a sofa, bashing bad guys and notching up high scores. What links the two pursuits is that arguably they are both concerned on some level with escapism, defined as the search for experiences outside the norm. Whatever their reasons, games developers have from time to time included religious and spiritual references in their games, resulting in the crossing over of these two usually disparate worlds. One particularly fascinating example that I’ve recently been reacquainted with is Bullfrog’s 1998 strategy game Populous: The Beginning.

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