04 January 2010

[Literature] Death matters: understanding gameworld experiences

by Klastrup in 2006, located on ACM portal

Motivation and methodology

To fully understand [virtual] worlds in their complexity, we need to study the combination of a navigational fictional setting, a given world system and its design, the possibilities of performance and interaction within it, and the social interaction in and about the world, which forms the player's experience of a particular world. The motivation of the author is to understand the many factors that help create a sustainable experience of "worldness" in order to improve online games in general. Even though the author acknoledges that within the humanities, no tested methodologies yet exist for the study of particular gameworld features, she argues that virtual death, under certain circumstances, is not just a question of game mechanics, but is a pivotal element in the social and visual design of the worlds. Klastrup also notices that designers prefer to follow genre conventions rather than break the rules and "innovate" death. Therefore, she suggests designers should consider different ways to implement death.

Game design perspective

Player versus designer: According to the author, how death should be implemented from a game design point of view is an important matter. She gives several quotes that players have left on her survey website (the website used to be death-stories.org but seems currently down) and also quotes from designers such as Richard Bartle. Bartle argues in his book Designing Virtual Worlds that some tedious aspects of the real world that players do not want to experience act, unfortunately, to set up [...] enjoyable aspects that they do want to experience.

How to stage death: Klastrup explains that in virtual worlds, death is everywhere: my avatar dies, other players' avatars die, death happens to everybody. Death is made permanent by the players' corpses which serve the purpose of conveying the concept and existence of mortality. However, by shortly placing avatars "outside" the game itself with no possibility for powerful action within the world, players are reminded that they should be wary of death.

Grinding to become a hero: virtual heroes can either be cast as "winners" who, through a combination of strength and skills are able to slay dangerous mobs or as "group servants" who are willing to offer their lives in order to save the group. A player wrote Every time I died, I would repeat "doesnt matter guy, keep it up.". Klastrup concludes that mastering when and how to die will make one a better gamer and death help define what and who [players'] characters will become.

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