This year's death rate

I noted during the competition that of the first six games I played, there were three where I was dead. But I didn’t realise until yesterday just how much death there was going on across the board.

The subject appears in obvious ways in Eurydice, Changes, Spiral, Body Bargain, A Killer Headache, howling dogs, Fish Bowl, Escape From Summerland, Living Will, and The Test is Now READY.

That’s ten already. With only a bit more thinking we can add

Andromeda Apocalypse …where you find the petrified bodies of people who died a zillion years ago. (Also the whole galaxy is being destroyed.)Sunday Afternoon…where there’s every chance the soldiers are going to their deaths at the end.The Island…where you become the person you kill.and Valkyrie…which (I had forgotten) starts with a bunch of funerals.
I’m not even counting games which only have incidental genre-standard killings of monsters or goons, like J’dal, The Lift, and maybe one or two others.

So doesn’t that seem like a lot? You expect a universal theme to crop up now and then, but is there something particularly deathish in the zeitgeist at the moment?

I don’t mean this as a criticism of any of these games; it’s just a statistical observation. But personally I won’t mind if next year we go back to hide-and-seek and space pirates and games where you play as the author’s dog.

I suppose death is a universal theme, moreso than my sea monster prediction.

Next year I’ll submit a game where you play a dog hiding from space pirates.

Unless losing the game results in dog barbecue, I submit that they are not true pirates.

The twist at the end is that it turns out that they weren’t pirates, the dog misheard, they’re actually pie-rats, come from space to eat the dog’s owner’s apple pies.

The “pie-rats” pun was already covered by Richard Scarry, Joey; you need to work a little harder on your awful puns.

Curses. Okay, okay, they’re Space Pi-Rhetts: Rhett Butler clones sent from a fictional universe (the Pi prefix indicates their model: these ones are quite late in the series). You think they want to hunt you down at first, but quite frankly they don’t give a damn.

Without intending any disrespect to games about hide-and-seek and dogs, I think the grimmer games about death are a step in the direction of the kinds of stories that I would like to see. A step, but most of them aren’t there yet.

Simple slice-of-life simulation games or games with very gentle and non-threatening conflict can be fun and good on multiple levels, as we saw with Six and It last year. However, truly great stories have to contain suffering. But suffering alone is not enough. An artistic piece that produces an emotional response is not a great story, not to me. Nor is a controversial game that presents suffering in order to show that something is bad, but does not offer much hope. To me, a great story shows terrible suffering, and it shows people enduring and overcoming that suffering because of a strong hope. That’s why I liked the Andromeda games, especially Andromeda Awakening. I think Eurydice and Changes also come close to being great stories, by my personal criteria.

That kind of plot arc might be cliched, but I don’t really believe that it can be overdone. Stories about the persistence of hope through suffering are hard to write. I think that’s why most IF, even in the “epic” genres of fantasy and science fiction, seem to try hard not to tackle serious themes of hope amid tribulation. Hollywood cheats by using the blanket Monomyth template for movies, and it does get tiresome, because the Monomyth is merely a tool for analysis and description and should not be used as an outline by writers. But for IF, with so few games and fewer serious ones, and fewer still serious ones that present hope, I would love to see more generic Hero’s Quest factory-made epics.