Tuesday, September 30, 2008

World of Deathcraft

The "death penalty" of games: yes, that certainly makes sense.  Virtual worlds must punish.  Virtual worlds built around the concept of war must punish with death.  A few alternatives:

-surrender of land
-broken families
-incineration of cities
-physical disability
-scorched earth

But these are much more messy.  Death is easily inflicted and overturned in a virtual world.

Klastrup's "Note on Death and Dying" in WOW calls attention to the construction of mortality and its interface (so to speak) with players.  Her most provocative findings/conclusions are: 1) it can teach through incentive; 2) it is an event (she makes this claim indirectly through Van Gennep's idea of a "liminal phase" and her rebuttal of the player who described battleground death as a non-event).

From this I'd like to offer one re-rebuttal and two questions:

Re-rebuttal: Death is an event in WOW but not a death event.  I will ignore PVE and PVP and Battlegrounds and get right to the most narrative-worthy material: the Leeroy Jenkins death--dying under the high-stakes conditions of a group run/instance/quest.   As Klastrup indicates, this kind of death does not only produce fools.  It makes heroes too (although I don't agree that these "valorous" deaths parallel WWI accounts--think of Wilson Owen and trenches, and the comparison falls apart).  My point is that this kind of death focuses much more on shifts in social standing than on a bodily event.  The group, if wiped, re-spawns and retries.  Nothing physical (besides the durability of armor) transforms.  Death, on the other hand, is a fleshy event.  Without any permanent material rupture, death be not found.

The game should be approached--as should most games--as a combat simulator without killing.  "Permadeath" should not describe "death."  "Death" should.  What happens in WOW is more along the lines of involuntary teleportation--a non-non-death  

Question 1): Does this really matter?

Question 2): If it (death or the non-non-death) is a powerful incentive to learn, should we bring it into the classroom?

1 comment:

Cynthia Haynes said...

Anthony....excellent questions. You're right, of course. Death in WoW is a non-death event. Other MMRPGs, such as the early Diablo, offered players the chance to play in 'hardcore' mode and when you died, you could not resurrect, nor did your character persist. It was gone, as was all the time you invested in it. This is something Gonzalo Frasca dealt with in his essay, "Ephermeral Games: Is is Barbaric to Design Video Games After Auschwitz"...and perhaps we should read this essay for the class. I'll make it optional and put it on Blackboard for you. In it, Frasca discusses the alternative in game design of the 'death' problem with what he calls OSGON (one-session game of narration). The main consequences of such a game design would be: irreversibility, death (no second chance), criticism (difficult to analyze), time (can be used just once), awkwardness, and serials (OSGONS could be used as one-session chapters in ergodic serials). But this doesn't exactly get to your question...should we bring such non-death simulations into the classroom? What do others think?