Episode 48

Death in Gaming


February 11th, 2024

58 mins 3 secs

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About this Episode

You might think death and gaming are not connected. But loss is always a part of games as pieces and elements are lost. Some elements of games are fairly abstract (Uno cards or chess pieces), but other elements can be very personal, such as a character you've played for years in D&D or in a legacy type game such as Gloomhaven. Games also address death through theme and content: One Night Werewolf has players killing each other; Village has meeples age and die, to be moved to the graveyard; Endurance face nearly certain death even as a miraculous escape remains possible (Shackleton achieved it, after all!). Such gaming experiences give us vital ways of thinking about and discussing death and grief, as well as suggesting ways of facing our own mortality.

How is death represented in games?

  • It is the nature of games to abstract reality. How to abstract death?
  • Simplest example perhaps is chess - the piece is removed from the board for the rest of the game
  • The state is permanently changed for the rest of the game
  • But we don’t care about chess pieces - we care about humans and living creatures (maybe trees?), so games that evoke humanlike characters make us feel loss in powerful ways

A word about grief

  • Grief is a natural & important and unavoidable response to loss
  • This is not a look at grief, except perhaps tangentially.

Interesting examples of death in games

  • Village - cemetery, legacy
  • Werewolf - you are out of the game and watch what is happening to everyone else
  • Games that poke at death in a humorous or horror way - Zombies, etc.
  • Legacy games where the state is permanently changed even from one game to another
  • Art games (like the kind Alice Connor enjoys) that represent the emotions of death? Train and Endurance.

How do we feel about death in games? When we die or kill off another player?

Lessons of faith from death in games

  • The importance of being present to the moment
    • Parent and child with potentially fatal cancer playing games together during treatments. Forgetting the treatments. The gift of games is to anchor us in the present.
  • The permanence of death - Ways of coping when states permanently change
  • On the other hand, the impermanence of death - Perhaps what Buddhists call the illusion of death?? Life continues. Another wave forms on the ocean.
  • Reminder of John Glynn
  • How easily we can become numb to death—precisely by abstracting it—in real life.

Another discussion of each in games from the “Two Wood for a Wheat” podcast - https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/135031/death-board-games

00:00 Introduction: Death in Gaming
12:12 Lightening the Mood with Wordplay
13:12 Abstracting Death in Games
18:20 Games that Deal with Mortality
23:04 Examples of Death in Games
26:54 Village: Generations and Legacy
29:30 ISS Vanguard: Memorial Wall
31:51 Death and Remembering
32:27 The Changing Nature of Funerals
34:08 Using Games as a Eulogy
35:33 Art Games and Emotional Impact
36:16 Legacy Games and Permanence
39:36 Lessons of Faith from Death and Games
48:19 The Importance of Memory
49:21 Death as a Doorway
53:28 The Ocean and Impermanence
56:36 Wrapping Up