Fearing Death In MMOs

I think I’ve started to become complacent. Playing World of Warcraft often makes me feel like an immortal, powerful without limit or restrain. It also makes me feel like I’m surrounded by gamers, playing a game within a gaming community. They are immortals too and it’s no wonder that we don’t share any sort of bond – there is no emotion whatsoever to bind us together, teach us or challenge us.

I suppose I’ve gotten used to the idea that death in MMORPGs now holds absolutely no consequence. I charge into groups blindly, without thought or strategy, simply because I’m looking for that little adrenaline rush. If I die, I don’t care. To say that death in WoW is even an inconvenience is perhaps stretching it. I also experience very little kinship with people I group with and wasn’t until I died for the first time in EVE Online that I realised something: fearing death is a good thing. It’s an emotion and helps spark off other emotions and give us a vested interest in the game.

When I played Everquest I used to bond with almost everyone I played with. We had to because if we didn’t we would likely feel that painful sting of death. The player who ran from gnolls and trained Blackburrow was a coward, the player who sacrificed himself to allow his group to escape was a martyr and the player who pushed his group into the depths of a dungeon was either brave or reckless.

These emotions all stemmed from the fear of consequence. Players had to rely on each other in order to accomplish goals. Tanks had to rely on healers to hold their ground, DPS had to rely on tanks to hold the aggro and everyone had to rely on the Enchanter to stay awake in front of his screen at 2am in the morning.

We’re spoilt now. We have no repercussions to our actions so there’s no need to become a ‘good’ player or bond with your group. Who cares if your comrade dies? Who cares if someone leaves the group in the middle of the dungeon? There’s no risk. And that means there can be no reward.

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24 Comments

  1. You know, I never thought of it that way.

    I find myself making bonds with people through the power of forums and blogs rather than specifically in-game though… but you have a point.

    In real life, death would be something that brings people together, so perhaps some semblance of it should apply to MMOs as well.

    • Gordon says:

      I think it definitely brings people together in game. If you know that the survival of your comrades depends on your actions then it creates a bond between players. For instance, in EQ, 2 hours of exp gain could easily be lost by some untimely deaths thus people had to be careful and had to rely on each other. That creates companionship.

  2. Agreed. Flying through low & zero sec in EVE is always an adventure, even if you are just travelling for a few jumps. I also felt similar in Final Fantasy XI and Ryzom, when every journey through the wilderness is dangerous and risky.

  3. Longasc says:

    I think some balance has to be found. At the moment we are on the other extreme from Ultima Online’s early unrestricted warfare (clean looting – you can probably imagine what that means, you lose all equipment. Nobody even knows this term nowadays and screams bloody murder at the mere idea of it).

    But then the PvE/PvP divide began. Interestingly, Asian games did not experience it.

    I am not for completely unrestricted PvP. It has its bad sides, too. Just read Raph Koster’s blog, it was not all fine and dandy, otherwise this split would not have happened:

    http://www.raphkoster.com/2009/07/24/uo-goes-to-china-again/
    Racism and gang related PvP in a virtual world makes me swallow. The usual thing was that some people interrupted intentionally player events. The old PK vs RP gamer thing. Interestingly, there are no PKs nowadays, as it is simply impossible in most games. The roleplayers and extreme roleplayers also retired to private shards.

    • Gordon says:

      I agree a balance needs to be found. I’m actually OK with harsh death penalities such as exp loss or item loss but what I’m against is unfair fights. I hate the idea of being ganked by someone hugely higher level than me and knowing it’s not even a challenge for them and there’s nothing I can do about it, It’s a fair fight, I’m game for anything.

  4. Andrew says:

    “There’s no risk. And that means there can be no reward.”

    Well except most AAA games go out of their way to heap disproportionate rewards on us for overcoming trivial odds in the total absence of risk.

    Man…. I sound like a crank.

  5. Beej says:

    I miss the days of the original EQ where if I were to die leveling, it mattered. Look at WoW right now. If I die at level 15, it means even less than if I die at level 80. But in the original EQ, I already had gear that mattered I could lose.

    The main death penalty I’ve never liked is XP loss/debt. I am fine with losing time in game getting back items if I want them, but taking experience away has always felt too harsh.

    • Gordon says:

      I’d actually rather lose the exp than the items but I suppose it depends on how the games are setup. In EVE a ship is a ship and replaceable with cash. In EQ you might have had some item that took days to camp and thus very valuable to you.

  6. 00sage00 says:

    Just wait till you have +4 implants and you get podded. :P

  7. Veksar says:

    I definitely share your sentiments toward the current death penaltys in most MMOs. I wrote a similar article, on some of the things that I feel are missing from today’s MMOs on my blog.
    http://gamedungeon.wordpress.com/2009/07/23/would-you-play-a-more-hardcore-mmo/

  8. Yetian says:

    I agree, eq’s penalty meant you didn’t want to die, in eq2 it’s just costs a bit of cash. I am lucky I have a great bunch of people in my guild to game with.

    I played darkfall for a short time, death in darkfall to a player means you can be looted of everything you carry.

  9. To refine your point, there’s no meaningful rewards without risk. Being given everything on a silver platter means that everything has less value to you. Getting my epic mount on my Warlock back in TBC was a feat so it meant more. I’m sure that warlocks who did it before the level cap was raised valued it even more. I know at least one paladin friend who just bought an epic mount instead of doing the epic paladin mount quest back in vanilla WoW, so it took some doing.

    The problem is that games need to attract a wider audience these days. The hardcore critics complain that WoW “dumbed down” the game, but they did what they needed to in order to attract a larger audience. The fact is that people generally don’t like to fail. Many people when presented with a difficulty will just go around it. Some of us like to tackle it head-on and figure it out, though. We’re the ones that enjoy PvP or “doing the impossible” like duoing full group content, etc. But, we have to realize we’re not the majority. A game catering to our tastes isn’t going to be like WoW. For some of us, that’s just fine. But, others don’t like change even if it’s what they theoretically want.

    • Gordon says:

      I’m inclined to agree although – and maybe it’s just wishful thinking – I believe that we could see some sort of amazing sandbox virtual world MMO that offers something to everyone. Guess I’m an optimist :)

  10. Andrew says:

    Ryzom’s death penalty is interesting…. you have to work off a death tax, basically…. so while you don’t overtly lose experience, the next X experience that you do earn goes to paying off the penalty that you incurred.

    • Veksar says:

      That is the same system that EverQuest II uses(although they’ve made the debt you incur so small now that they may as well just remove it altogether). I’m not sure if EverQuest II or Ryzom did it first however. It’s interesting to know that other games use a similar system, as I thought EQ II was the only game using anything like that.

  11. JC says:

    EQ2’s used to be a little worse — when you’d die you’d leave a “shard” out in the field. While you had a shard out, all your stats were reduced by about 10% and you also had about 25% of a level’s “XP debt.” If you retrieved your shard, the xp penalty was cut to 5% and your stats were restored. Having multiple shards out obviously increased the penalty. . . .

    If you couldn’t/didn’t retrieve your shard, it “auto-recovered” after 3 realtime days. XP debt also decayed (and still does) at a rate of half a percent per hour.

    If someone in your group died you got about 3% xp debt also. Made it so no one grouped until everyone was at the dungeon entrance. Nobody wanted debt incurred by someone who died while on the way. Of course it also made it so you were a bit more careful about dying — you didn’t want everyone in your group ticked at you for debt they got becuz you messed up.

    So far as EVE goes, I’ve only died a few times. The Level 2 recon mission had a nice surprise for me, and I was in 0.2 in a Kestrel and got snagged in a static complex once. That was completely my own fault — I saw the guy coming on my directional scan, but thought “I can kill 1 more structure for its loot before he gets here, , , , :” I still got my pod out, at least (which was good becuz I had a full set of +4 implants in). I smarted about that one for days, though — it only cost me about 100K isk, if even that much, but I felt like such an idiot for getting caught when I shouldn’t have. Made me even more determined not to lose any more ships that way.

    • Gordon says:

      EQ2 has slowly nerfed the death penality until it’s meanginless now. I can’t remember the last time I even flinched at death in EQ2. Plus I was playing on a PvP server so that’s saything something.

  12. Twan says:

    Ugh you reminded me of some of the awful Corpse Runs/Recovery I had in EQ and binding drags to hotkeys and Jade Inlaid Coffins.

  13. Dedthom says:

    I feel that full loot PVP would not be such an issue if games were not so gearcentric. The decline of the death penalty has come from players not wanting to lose gear or time. In EQ I didn’t think about time or how long it would take to level, I was just worrying about not getting killed.
    EVE has maintained the severe death penalty because that is what the players want, EVE would not be EVE with out it. In the end tho MMOs no longer draw out emotion or make the heart race at the thought of death, I agree they feel more like you are playing a game.

  14. Another reason to give Aion a go.

  15. aion kina says:

    If you feel that way then I guess you have to wait for the release date of Aion, that’s an upcoming game and I made some research and I think it’s a great game to think that it won the award Best Korean Game of the Year in 2008. The graphics and storyline is good and it has 4 primary classes.

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