Dying A Virtual Death

by Brendan James

Rob Gallagher defends videogames from the charge of cheapening death, arguing that developers “have begun to use games’ capacity to devalue life to explore what death means in a culture of digitization”:

When videogames are accused of cheapening death the implicit model against which they are being judged is that of classical tragedy (or at least Hollywood’s take thereon), a genre based around cathartic representations of credible, psychologically “deep” characters facing up to their mortality over the course of a linear narrative arc. And, as critics such as Jesper Juul and Graeme Kirkpatrick have argued, judged on these terms, games are going to fail–not least because predestined doom, or the bracing arbitrariness of senseless death, are themes that tend to translate poorly to a medium that is supposed to be about agency and choice.

But why should tragedy be the gold standard? Where tragedy has traditionally presumed that time is linear, death is final, and the difference between things that are alive and things that are not-alive is clear, videogames are better equipped than most media to help us understand a world in which these convictions are ever-more open to question … In a sense, then, those who suggest that videogames fail to respect the sanctity of life might be on to something. If critics have praised other media for inducing sympathy or sorrow, contemplation, humility, or horror in the face of death, interactive media may be better equipped to provoke fear, hilarity, culpability, cynicism, frustration, and curiosity.

More Dish on the unique narratives of videogames here.