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Death And Punishment

Game Over. Insert Coin.The balance between carrot and stick, reward and punishment, in game design was so much simpler back in the arcade.Take the gamer's money and give them a limited number of chances to progress, usually called "lives" since failure nearly always means death. When the player runs out of lives, they can pay to keep playing if they agree within a given time period. If not, the game resets itself to the start.In some ways, it's a magnificently simple and beautiful state of affairs compared to what PC and console gaming has become, where the entire price of a game, hardware included, is bought and paid for in advance, and "pay for play" means online access fees and MMO subscriptions.How, in an environment where you can't hit the gamer in the pocketbook for failing to demonstrate the requisite skills, can you punish them? Should you even try? Arcade games were designed to be "finished" only by the best of the best, but today's story-driven, cinematic AAA titles cost millions to make-- is it wise to reveal the entirety of one's design only to a select few? Might that not tempt designers to leave the ending out (I'm glancing in your direction, Halo 2, and yours, too, Indigo Prophecy) and focus energies on the beginning-- the part that most reviewers will see?Is death in games supposed to be punitive, or is it there only to prevent the player from progressing through the game until they've demonstrated a certain minimum level of proficiency? If it is supposed to be punitive, what does it say about designers' opinions of their own game if the worst punishment they can come up with is playing the game more? Isn't the idea of dying, the message of failure, more important than the actual consequences? Or is it? Can a game design aspire to have replayability and still consider repeat play as a punishment for dying? What other punishments can there be? Should there be any punishments at all? Can any punishment be as useful or effective as requiring the player to insert another quarter, and if not, should gaming return to the arcade model, or should it abandon player punishment altogether?  Click here for the complete text.