For Realism and Excitement in Computer Games To Advance, They Must Mirror Real Life

Virtual Worlds With Characters That Have Limited Lives Might Add a New Thrill to Gaming

As the graphics capability of computers has improved tremendously in recent decades, (along with increasingly faster processors and larger amounts of memory available), the trend in computer game design has been to make more and more realistic looking games. These games are often combat style arenas where multiple characters play against each other online and in real time, such as in the popular games Call of Duty and World of Warcraft (WOW).

In such computer games, the appeal for gamers is that the game be as realistic as possible in terms of the ability of the character to move about and interact with others both from a visual and audio point of view. Background scenery and wildlife is rendered in as realistic a manner as possible as well, all with the idea that the player get immersed in the game world so much that they literally become their character in a sense.

Yet the one major drawback with virtually all competitive MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) is that they cannot fully replicate the real life danger of combat in any sense. Violent scenes can be rendered realistically with blood and gore that looks real, and with explosive and ballistic effects from weapons where the physics of the effect are rendered in a realistic way as well. The interaction with other players is often naturally antagonistic, and there’s a competitive spirit that arises from playing the game based on pre-established goals that a character must accomplish.

Ultimately however, a gamer gets their greatest thrill from the feeling of being immersed in a game world to such an extent that it takes them away from their real lives and allows them to focus entirely on the goal oriented nature of the game. They become their game character, taking on its persona, reputation and abilities. As this develops over time, the more a gamer feels their character is threatened by events and other characters around it, the more of a thrill they get from getting out of such binds unscathed. Using strength and skill to out maneuver or out fight opponents of increasing ability lends a feeling of accomplishment to the person playing the game. 

Where games fall down in this department is in the endless, unlimited lives a character receives. No matter how many times you are killed in the game, there’s no real punishment for "dying." You simply regenerate your character and begin again where you left off. In certain games like WOW you become a "ghost" for a time if you die and must return to your body from a graveyard to regenerate, but this is a trivial punishment for dying and is more of a nuisance than anything. Such a trivialization of the loss of a character's life tends to rob the game of any imagined realism.

If a game were created where you had one and only one life for your character, players would be much more cautious about risking the character’s life in the game. They would also be much more in tune with the character, valuing it more and doing whatever was possible to enhance its power and ability to survive and fight off attackers.

The obvious drawback to such a feature of "live once, die once" with a game (an acroynm I refer to as LoDo) would be that the game would have only brief entertainment value if the player were locked out after being careless with their game avatar and letting it die. Software developers could work around this by giving each player a full range of different characters they could create in a game, even though each could only live and die once. If you were careless with your dwarf and sent him to the graveyard at a young age, you could start over with an elf. The same restriction on live once, die once would still be in place, yet gamers could continue to make use of the system.

Such parameters would encourage players to be much more meticulous with how they chose the attributes of their character when starting out, what regions of the game world they took them too, and who they relied on as companions for protection when threatened. In short, it would make games much more realistic in that each avatar would have a limited lifespan and vulnerabilities that would reflect how we must act in real life, regardless of our abilities. The characters could even be given an "aging" effect where they started out as young adults and progressed to elders.

This sort of game design would instill in the back of the player’s mind a constant state of threat and immediacy to act before it was too late, present at every moment. Risks could and would still have to be taken to advance the character, but with each step forward you'd value its life more and more, and not want to risk losing it.  Avoiding an untimely death would be a major motivation of the game that would lend itself to new strategies of offense and defense, so as to avoid losing all progress built up into the character and its companions over time.

The idea of live once, die once for game characters may seem tremendously limiting and in some respects it is. Life itself is limited in this manner however, and making avatars vulnerable in similar ways would take games to a higher level of realism that would make them more popular than they’ve ever been before.

If you create a game like this, be sure to remember me when you are signing those royalty checks. It was BrainofMorbius that gave you the idea for it in the first place.