Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Death from Above

Death is a serious matter. It is the end of life, perhaps the end of our conscious existence. It is a snuffing out, a leaving, a passing. Death is a hard thing to see, harder to accept. Death is a significant symbol in many cultures. There are gods of death; rituals of death, and for the dead. Everyone has some way of marking death, respecting the dead, dealing with mortality.

So death in games is supposed to mean something, right? Death is given as a punishment because it is a serious matter. It is also a natural end of failure, in certain situations. It communicated peril of the strictest sort through a well ingrained metaphor. We understand death in this way, and while it may not affect us emotionally, we perceive the intended effect and understand the consequences. We have failed and we must try again. How lucky we are to have this chance, in a virtual world where we have overcome death.

Of course, death can just be freaking hilarious. I really don’t want to talk about the serious side of death. My day will come, true enough, but that is not today. Today, I want to drop a Concrete Donkey on your head and laugh as you scatter, broken and battered. Death from above!


One of the first games I ever played multiplayer with my brothers, over our little LAN, was Worms World Party. For those of you not familiar with the Worms franchise, I will point and laugh. When I’m done I’ll describe it as Scorched Earth with cute little worms carrying a bizarre arsenal of extremely deadly weaponry. Your goal is simple: kill the other worms any way you can. These games are a laugh a minute. I mean, where else can you launch exploding sheep at your enemies? Or drop a concrete donkey on their heads? Or simply cause them to explode via a well placed mine (and handy barrel of napalm)? Worms is a prime example of the humorous death. Corvus mentioned the Jolly Reaper when he opened this round table, and this is where he lives.

I never was much of a FPS player, myself. I don’t have the reaction time, or the nerves. While I can map and navigate most any space (I rarely get lost in games), I can’t seem to do it while running a mile a minute shooting and being shot at. That didn’t really stop me from playing the odd game of Unreal Tournament with my brothers. I suppose having the only decent computer helped. Well, it never hurt. But there is just something funny about running around a wide open map, playing capture the flag, and blowing up your siblings with highly over powered weaponry. We loved it.

It could be boiled down to adolescent immaturity. It could be passed off as a symptom of virtual invulnerability. It could be taken as a sign of games warping and dulling our sense of the tragic and profane. But it’s not. It is nothing more deviant than slapstick comedy. The actors are always fine in the end, but gosh is it funny to watch.

It doesn’t take anything away from death either. It doesn’t make the real-life kind of death any easier to understand. Nor does it make our actions mean less. It’s just a way to blow off steam, and perhaps keep the darkness at bay for a while. In the end analysis, we become stronger and perhaps more human, if we can laugh at our fears, and face them down. Or smash them flat, with virtual statuary.


While it is a little late for the symposium, I’ve also done a play spec for Worms World Party. You can see it here.

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