Death or How to Create Diegetic Opportunities out of Non-Diegetic Machine Acts

Most video gamers can recognize that the act of dying usually indicates the end of gameplay. That is, all players can understand that when ones character meets death they relinquish their ability to control or to act. In Galloway’s words, gamic death is “[t]he most emblematic non-diegetic machine act [or] game over” (Galloway, 28). However, World of Warcraft (“WoW”) handles death differently. Unlike the limiting non-diegetic machine act that most games impose on players, WoW attempts to open up more possibilities. When one’s character dies in World of Warcraft, their spirit releases from their body and spawns at a nearby graveyard. WoW then gives the player three options, resurrect at this graveyard in a short amount of time through the Spirit Healer, return to the player’s corpse and resurrect where they met their demise, or wait for a player to resurrect the corpse. Each choice contains different advantages and disadvantages. This gameplay mechanic not only reduces non-diegetic machine acts, but also allows the player to experience more of the diegesis. Blizzard not only opens up the world for more gameplay, but they also make a statement about the general use of death. Death does not have to indicate that gamic action is over. One does not have to separate the player from the diegesis in order to show that their character’s life is over. That is, WoW is encouraging other games to not limit players to the diegesis of life; to explore the diegesis of death.

There could be arguments made against this however, such as the gamic use of fear of failure. The biggest case for this are classic arcade games with their jarring and frequent game over screen. Most of these games (“Pac-Man”, “Mario”, and “Street Fighter”) flash a non-diegetic “Game Over” upon death. Although each of these illustrate “Game Over” in their own way, each negatively reinforces the player and urges them to put another quarter in and try again. Even modern video games feature this non-diegetic “Game Over” upon death. Take for instance the popular franchise “Grand Theft Auto”. Rockstar’s hit series is iconic for its death mechanic. In all GTA games, slow motion and a big red “Wasted” follows shortly after the death of the main character. The game then gives players a menu in which they can choose to reload a save or restart at a checkpoint, causing the player to replay what they had just done. Even though these means do cause fear of failure and provide gameplay motivation, they limit the player with a myriad of non-diegetic machine acts.

Although WoW does not transact with players through token means, it also exhibits the gamic use of fear of failure. Anytime death occurs in WoW, any armor that equipped by the player takes a 10% durability (important for maintaining defense) reduction. This reduction increases by a larger percentage if the player chooses to revive at a graveyard through the Spirit Healer. Not only does the player receive a 25% extra durability reduction, the player will also suffer from resurrection sickness which decreases all base attributes by 75%. The fear of failure is very much alive in WoW. Players have to be way of death and make choices afterwards to reduce the cost on their character. But, WoW does this convincingly without the use of non-diegetic machine acts. Every moment after death is for the player to decide. It opens up potential for diegetic operator acts.

So next time you play or create a video game. WoW encourages you to ask yourself and think about how :

  • Could I advocate player actions beyond death?
  • Is non-diegetic machine acts necessary to simulate death?
  • Could I explore the diegesis of death and not just life?

World of Warcraft says yes to each of these questions. It makes clear that a video game does not have to rely on non-diegetic machine acts to portray death. Death in video games have potential to open up limitless opportunities in diegetic operator acts.

Works Cited :

Galloway, Alexander R. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. Print.

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6 Responses to Death or How to Create Diegetic Opportunities out of Non-Diegetic Machine Acts

  1. danwillisdan says:

    Excellent work. Death does seem a much more limited diegesis than life in WoW. It also seems totally dependent on the diegesis of life, almost as if it’s a mini-game, totally distinct from the main game, that incentivizes certain types of death-play with life-effects in the main game. Do you think that the different ways of being revived indicate that the game privileges certain behaviors, like waiting as opposed acting or recklessness as opposed to caution?


    • univerrse says:

      I think that the different ways of escaping death together don’t definitively privilege a certain behavior. Each of these ways have their own merits in terms of time and game play and might privilege behavior individually. But only resorting to one of these options because they privilege a certain behavior would be a shame.


  2. useltime says:

    I really enjoyed reading your work on the aspect of death in World of Warcraft and it’s role in the game. I never really thought of death as a part of the game either until I read your post about reviving yourself immediately or just waiting it out and not taking such a drastic penalty armor/health/ability wise. When I die in WoW I just think of this as a way to keep the gamer entertained until he or she re-spawns instead of throwing up a “you died, game over, now loading” screen. You brought to my attention that, in reality, dying in itself is just as important as when you’re alive skill wise. In regards to what Dan mentions about privileging certain behaviors I think that it is more-so intended to provide flexibility in resurrection methods for different circumstances rather than strictly impatience. If someone is in a dungeon or a battleground and someone is running with your flag back to the base you are obviously going to choose the faster more costly option. Whereas if you are just running through the forest and get killed by a giant spider with no pressing matters at hand, you can wait and take the less costly route.


  3. specifictortoise says:

    Death is really interesting in WoW, isn’t it? In my post I focused on the “corpse run” option, but I really like how you brought in Galloway’s article. I think it might have something to do with WoW’s MMO format. In other types of games, death and game over are the same thing, and when your character dies the whole world resets. That can’t happen in an online game though, since the game doesn’t end, so death has to be handled diegetically as something happening to the character, but not the player’s connection to the character. You get to follow your character through the process of death and resurrection because you’re still connected.


  4. cso9 says:

    I think your exploration of death in World of Warcraft, as well as other video games, makes for a great argument, especially in contrast to Galloway’s statement that gamic death is the greatest “emblematic non-diegetic machine act.” While in the gaming world, death is most commonly considered “game over,” I agree that WoW offers opportunities beyond that. Since I have been conditioned through frequent play with other games that death is the end, WoW certainly surprised me, as well as gave me some peace of mind when my character was in peril. While still remaining a horrible fate, the diegetic opportunities the game offers after death certainly diminished some fear of failure Many times, in games that revert you back to square one when you die, the fear of failure can be so immense that gameplay in inhibited. When the player is so fixated/concerned with dying, the fear of returning back to where they started can cause them to lose focus. This was the case for me, for example, in Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask. This particular game takes place over the course of just three days, relying on time travel to complete quests. If Link (the main character) dies, you must return to day 1, and complete all of the same tasks as before in order to progress forward (which can be extremely tedious).

    Furthermore, as you have stated, the fear of failure has certainly been negatively reinforced for years. I am thinking of the early Nintendo 54 games, where if your character dies, doesn’t win the race, etc., a condescending message stating “YOU LOSE” appears on the screen.

    I agree that World of Warcraft allows the player more potential after death than your usual game, which lessens the fear of failure and can allow the player to enjoy the game more fruitfully. I think as games continue to progress, it would be nice to see more of this sort of take on death.


  5. KAK249 says:

    I really like your post! I never really thought much about the death as being part of the game itself. In my opinion, non-diegetic machine acts are not necessary to simulate death in this game. I usually use death as a time to prepare myself for my next move. WoW reduces my fear of dying because I do feel that I have more potential after death. I am just as engaged during my time as “a ghost” as I am when I am alive. There are even some quests that you can perform while being dead! I would be interested in playing more games like this because it is encouraging in a way that the “GAME OVER” screen can not convey to the players.


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