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Deaths of main characters

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In game storylines, the death of a main character is usually used as motivating factor to create hatred of the villian that did the killing (ie Final Fantasy VII, with the death of Aeris) Can the death of a main character also be used as a way to make the player character progress in ways that were not otherwise possible? The end of a story I'm working on now includes the deaths/permanent departure of every main character introduced, save for the player character. I had hoped that this would A) serve as a motivation for the player character to move forward with his adventure, and bring about national revolution (traditional use) B) serve as a sort of "cutting of strings" to leave nothing for the player character to linger over that he feels he needs to come back to, or preserve. It allows his revolution to be total and complete, leaving no remnants of the past to corrupt the future (of course, the future is corrupted anyway, it always is) Does this seem cold, or unnecessary, to kill or remove every shred of the past and leave nothing but the future to look to? Also, what would be the psychological ramifications of losing literally everything that ever meant anything to him? Would he be more determined to succeed and move foreward? Or would he be crushed and broken, unable to act until he gains more closure on the departure of all his friends?

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Psychologically speaking, if you eliminate everything a player has become attached to, he'll learn to distrust the game, believing that everything good will be in some way taken from him.

As a result, he's less likely to become attached to anything else, and may even go so far as to avoid playing the game, for fear of losing security. This is especially true if the player is unable to anticipate, or isn't told from the beginning that s/he's going to lose everything in the near or distant future.

In situations where the player is told up-front, they instead fail to become attached in the first place. This results in them not becoming distrustful, but instead forces/encourages them to enjoy elements of the game not associated with the things or characters you eventually plan to eliminate.

This is generally a Bad Thing(tm), however if you know what you're doing, it can be used for good. As well, if you leave something...something extremely important behind that the player has already become attached to, it will further reinforce the attachment, building a more trusting relationship between both the player and the game, and the player and the agent or entity which has remained.

/discuss

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I agree with everything said above. The only counter is in a circumstance where you are trying to create that hero that has nothing left to lose. You take away everything so they no longer have anything to risk losing.

However I don't think this would work quite as well in a game as one would hope. I tend to think Jeromy is correct about what will most likely happen.

[Edited by - NickGravelyn on September 16, 2007 1:08:39 AM]

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I think it depends on the type of impact you wish your game to have. If it's a revenge game, then logically nearly all of the main characters are killed off. This killing is likely going to be part of the inciting incident. After this, the only characters left are player character and the ones whom the player character is after.

In Kill Bill, Mad Max, and even the Metroid games, the player character loses all attachments to the world other than themselves. I don't think a game which focuses on isolation can't be done, given that the Metroid games shine in their isolationist elements.

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I don't believe he's talking about a situation such as Metroid in which the player character begins with nothing. I believe he's referring to a situation in which the player has attained something, which is then taken away.

However, there is no real comparison with metroid because the player never becomes "attached" to anything. That is to say, the game is not structured in such a way that you would feel a psychological loss at losing something. The closest example you might find for Metroid would be at the very end, just before facing the Mother Brain, if you walked into an exterior chamber and suddenly all of the special abilities and equipment you'd attained over the bast 25+ hours were suddenly stripped away and you were forced to fight bare handed.

However, even this pales in comparison, as it doesn't leave the player with the "hopeless" feeling, as they know there's only a single battle remaining. Additionally, meta-game thinking allows you to surmise that the developers of the game provided you with upcoming challenges that would no longer require the gear. So there's no sense of loss if in this.

/discuss

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I've always thought that learning more about the personalities of the main characters was most of the fun associated with moving ahead to new situations and locations. Removing those characters wouldn't do anything positive for me.

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An important part of literature has always been a purging or shedding the old for the new. As such, this can be worked into games. I'll work with a previous example of mine (because I'm a sucker for the series), Mad Max. In Mad Max, the entire movie is spent revealing the bond between Max and his wife, then she (and his newborn son) are taken away in the last fifteen minutes of the movie. Keep in mind his best friend was previously burned alive, and he left his life as a police officer, so all he has is his family. When he loses this, he does lose all attachments to the world, and, as an audience, all of our emotional investment is poured into Max. As a character, the only thing Max has left in the world is himself and his sense of justice.

Translating this into games can also work, despite the psychological hardships involved in the process. If the player is stripped of everything they've acquired previously in the game (character relationships in this case), having them push forward to the end would reinforce their resolve and would actually be a good jumpoff point for a franchise. The act of them losing all outside relationships could be the inciting incident, and their decision to continue (or discontinue) on their current path is simply the break into the second act. Once again, this is basically the structure employed in the Mad Max series, but I'm confident it could be translated into an interactive narrative just as it is used in non-interactive narratives.

Just because it may be emotionally difficult for the player, doesn't mean it can't work. Emotionally difficult narratives have always been around. The Oedipus plays, Beloved, Casablanca, Mad Max (you knew it was coming), hell even Eternal Darkness and Killer 7 are all examples of narratives which provoke emotional reactions that aren't necessarily easy to handle.

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Sulphix, I see what you're saying and for the most part agree, but be careful not to confuse the character, with the player.

In Mad Max, and the remaining series you mentioned, the hero is a Hero precisely because the persevered in the face of hardship or extreme loss. As an audience reading the epic novel, or watching the movie, we're fascinated by such heroism.

However, when we're playing an interactive game, we're put in the role of the protagonist. In this case, having all of our family, etc...stripped away from us requires US to be heroic. Many people don't have that amount of reserve energy. And just as most non-heroic characters in movies would have abandoned the cause at the point of loss, many players will as well.

Watching a hero in action, and being required to actually be a hero, are two different things.

Thoughts?

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I think death is a very powerful thing that is usually downplayed in most video games as a minor annoyance. I still remember when I was hanging out with my friend who had a lvl 90 hardcore diablo 2 sorc and I convinced him to (sneakily) pk another lvl 90 hardcore barbarian. Luckily the server was local, and we actually heard screaming through the open window from the unfortunate victim. That death really meant something.

Putting death in a game in perspective would be a great tool. Killing the main character (who is usually the player) probably isn't...unless maybe it's at the very end of the game. This is also assuming that the player hasn't died 200 times already in getting there - that's going to lessen the effect of death quite a bit...

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, other than to say that death isn't used properly in most games. That being said, I'm not sure what a great way to go about having death written into your story is, except maybe killing off the love interest towards the end...

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Quote:
Original post by JWalsh
Many people don't have that amount of reserve energy. And just as most non-heroic characters in movies would have abandoned the cause at the point of loss, many players will as well.

Watching a hero in action, and being required to actually be a hero, are two different things.

Thoughts?

I agree completely with your analysis, when dealing with real life situations. But not in a video game. Even without the concept of loss, players of video games already are Mad Max. Killing characters off that are close to the player will likely cause anger and aggression (maybe hatred) toward the killers, and most players will go stomping off to get revenge.

However, if the game continuously takes characters away from the player, as suggested in the original post, it will begin to stop having that effect. Eventually, the player will blame the game instead of the bad guys. They won't need to lose hope to decide to stop playing.

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