Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Million Little Doorways

In America there is a minor tradition of making “New Year's Resolutions.” These resolutions seem mostly to involve losing weight by not eating chocolate. I don’t participate in this tradition because to be honest anything anti-chocolate is anti-me. Sometime the resolutions involve improving one's love life or financial condition but whereas I think being alone and poor is a noble endeavor that doesn’t apply to me either. So I resolved one year to give up making resolutions; have keep at it with tenacity.

A New Life

That doesn’t mean that the turning of an arbitrary date doesn’t give rise to reflection. January is named for Janus the Roman god of doorways, of entrances and exits. He’s a two-faced god in that regard because he’s always looking to the past or the future but never one for the present. And that reminds me of our own sort of Janus god, the spirit healer. Because death in Warcraft is a Janus moment. We look back and think about where we goofed that caused us to die and we look forward to raising our corpse so we can get on with playing the game. Death isn’t a state of permanence but a simply doorway.

Which gives rise to my thought for the new year: how would you live your life differently if what we call death in real life were exactly like it was in Warcraft. Not heaven nor hell, no oblivion, no reincarnation as a cow. Just a few minutes delay and there you are. Not quite as good as new but back among the living. How would that reality shape your decision making process? Would you be more adventurous or daring or would you be more conservative, more relaxed.

Different Deaths

I’m one of these people that has fun randomly inspecting characters. I’m curious about how other people are playing the game. One thing that has always fascinated me is the number of times a character in the game has died.

The lowest number of deaths I have seen on a level 80 toon is the lowest possible: zero. I remember sending an astounded whisper to the person asking how in Azeroth they managed that feat. He claimed that he’d leveled with four other members of his guild doing nothing but instances. When I asked why he said that dying was a waste of time.

Then there was the woman raider who had died more than 3000 times. I still shudder at the thought of that. Even if the time spent being dead was only one minute (a lowball figure) that means at least 50 hours or two full days of one’s life spent being dead in a game.

What these extremes tell me is that not all people respond to death in the same way. Even though the penalty for death isn’t large in each individual case the time spent as a ghost can add up; enough so that some people will go to lengths to avoid it. On the other hand, there seems to be some people who don’t mind dying. It’s just a doorway to them.

My Reaction

When I first started thinking about the question my initial reaction was that I would be more adventurous. What would it feel like to jump off a 1000 foot cliff, just for a rush, knowing I could pick up and move on again. Then I switched gears and thought it would make me more relaxed. If I could die an unlimited amount of times then death would cease to be a cause of worry. I wouldn’t worry about making it home ahead of the bad blizzard or drifting off to sleep while driving. Hakuna Matata.

The more I thought about it the more I came to the conclusion that in the long run it would make me more conservative. There would be the initial rush of daring as I explored the world but I would quickly get bored with that. I found myself thinking more along the lines of the player with zero deaths at level 80. Why waste the time; it’s not any fun being a ghost.

Don’t misunderstand. I think it would be cool to live in a world where there are biological second chances. Yet I kind of like the idea of a death penalty. It sharpens the sense; it focuses the mind. It helps you to figure out what you value, what you care about.

Or maybe it’s just that I don’t care too much for the idea of January. I’ve never been a person that has much love for transitions. I love to visit other countries but I hate the actual traveling part, getting from point A to Point B. Planes, trains, automobiles; I dislike them all. Get me though the doorway as quickly as possible. “Can someone Rez me, please.”


Klepsacovic said...

2009 whispers: rez plz
2009 has been removed from the calender
2010 has joined the calender

If I could res, I imagine I'd take more risks. My WoW characters have run into dangers as certainly deadly as any war, except for their ability to run back to their corpses. How many wars have I joined in real life, despite the potential profit or moral belief? How many times have I stood in the face of danger?

Larísa said...

2129 deaths in game... /blush

There's a couple of great SF books about a world where you die over and over again. Don't bite the sun and Drinking sapphire wine by Tanith Lee. Highly recommended.

G-Rebel said...

593 in-game deaths for me (305 in dungeon/raid). The question I have is will I feel pain if I jump off a 1000ft cliff? If so, then the more adventurous route is not for me. It would be cool to be able to rez over and over, but if I must feel pain to do it then count me out. Call me Mr Relaxed!

Carra said...

I don't think we would act that differently. Teenagers and young adults would still be taking more thrills and risks. People who are a bit older have seen it all and wouldn't be so eager to kill themselves time after time.

Now that Larissa mentions, Death is a theme in multiple SciFi books.

The Commonwealth saga from Peter F. Hamilton features it. All your memories are stored in a memory crystal. A backup of that crystal is created from time to time when you walk around in your house. Upon dieing a clone is created with those memories implanted. Permanent death is still possible if someone kills you and destroys all memory crystals. Interestingly, when being revived you can alter your memories to make you happier.

Carra said...

So every character in WoW gets resurrected by a spirit walker. Why don't the villains get resurrected? Why is Arthas not walking around happily two minutes after you killed him? Why don't all my characters in Warcraft 3 respawn in a few minutes.

I don't think Blizzard has given a decent explanation :)

Tanleor said...

Makes for a very different game, too, being able to res like that. Back in the day I used to play a text based MORPG, called MUD2 - that was a game that allowed pvp, took a significant effort to reach max level and any death was permanent - die once = reroll. On reaching max level you became immortal.

The thing that permanent death "not just dead, but dead dead!" added was a truly visceral fear in most fights. The feeling of loss after putting weeks of effort into levelling and then having some pvp'er kill your char was gutting.

I don't think I've ever played a game that was quite as emotionally involving, even if it was just text.

I guess you can draw the same parallel to RL. If you really could res / live forever / etc., then all of life would become a little more bland and a little more "meh!".