Why we love dying a video-game death

It's not just the fatally perilous adventure, says Maria Bustillos at Kotaku, but the potential for rebirth that keeps us enthralled

A player is killed in the video game Fallout 3
(Image credit: Screen shot, fallout.bethsoft.com/)

What is it about "dying" as a video-game character that leaves us feeling so invigorated, so alive? Winston Churchill — who never played a video game in his life — may have left us a clue when he wrote in 1898, "Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result." It's this ability to cheat death that attracts many of us to "the adrenaline-pumping sensations provided by video games," says Maria Bustillos at Kotaku. And don't forget about video games' "ecstasy of reincarnation. They bring us through death, and to the other side." The best new video games, says Bustillos, actually allow us to recreate the timeless thrill of near-mythic immortality. Here, an excerpt:

GAME OVER used to be a much costlier affair. In the 8-bit days, death meant losing all your character's attributes, all his jewels, coins, weapons, and experiences. It was in some ways like real-life death (or maybe the Buddhist version of it). You were forced to start over absolutely, from nothing...

[T]oday's games keep you alive for a lot longer, and the cost of death in general has become relatively slight. Your progress may entitle you to reenter the world at a way advanced level; long investment in a role-playing game is rewarded with a richly developed character that may persist for months or years...

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Maybe that's ultimately just what gaming is for, to give us the thrill without the cost, to satisfy the urge to risk everything, anything, to fall, to drown and burn, to kill and be killed, to explore the dark corners of our own minds, to expiate the sins in our deepest and most frightening part.

Read the entire article at Kotaku.

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