Lisbeth Klastrup discusses the aspect of death in World of Warcraft in her essay, “What makes World of Warcraft a World? A note on Death and Dying.”
Klastrup forms her argument first by introducing what it means to study death in gaming and how death is designed for a game to begin with. She describes what it means for a player to die in a game (i.e. depleting a character of health points, HP) and adds further that having death in a game as punishment ultimately needs to “affect people’s experience of gameplay and death” (145).
In her description of death design, Klastrup investigates various effects death does indeed have on its player: either to shape the player in a way to make them conscious of strategies they must use to avoid death or, on the contrary, to frustrate the player beyond belief and perhaps most importantly, to take away from precious gaming time. Ultimately, Klastrup strays towards the side that a game with the possibility of death shapes a gamer, rather than wastes his or her time. She supports this argument by making reference to other critics and individuals who studied this phenomenon previously, as well as discussing various possibilities that arise from death in Warcraft.
Among these arguments Klastrup states that death and the impending ghost-world setting intended as a penalty is actually a rite of passage. Here she introduces Van Gennep’s concept of “liminal phase.” As she considers Gennep’s division of three phases (separation, transition, and incorporation), Klastrup argues the ghost state to be considered a transitional phase. Moreover stating, “the punishment and death experience lie not in death itself and the staging of it, but in the experience that follows, the experience of being separated from the world of gaming, of wavering between worlds” (150).
Another important argument she makes is that death naturally reminds one of one’s mortality. The idea that death exists in a world where a player can run ceaselessly without getting tired, or jump around–on ground or on water–as a way of getting around faster, is quite a grounding feat. Death is a balance act. The possibility of death is necessary to ground the player and relay that there is some sort of mortality that exists within the game. A character in Warcraft can only hold his or her breath under water for so long. As Klastrup continues to make arguments about death in relation to the Horde side of WoW and the way in which death can be divided into combat or natural death, she proceeds with providing adequate support for her idea that death is not simply something to frustrate the gamer so he or she may continue on with the “actual game.”
One of Klastrup’s arguments that I took a particular liking to is the use of in-game death as a method of strategic play. How far can I jump before I die? What happens if I go to that one place with the high-leveled beasts? How long can my pet fight for me before I myself die? These are interesting contemplations a player has that can all be answered by simple trial and error (the error here being dying and having the “inconvenience” of running from the graveyard back to the character’s corpse). Klastrup provides very interesting perspective regarding the art of playing with death from a gamer in China, for example. “If I swim far far away to the center of the sea, I’ll be dead of tiredness, but at the same time I can find a precious blue weapon profondly under the ses. So to get it, i must suicide myself” (156).
As a gamer who participates in gaming every chance I get, I believe this is an aspect of WoW that Klastrup did not explore enough! In other games, one simply gets a blank screen, usually with the gamer’s player of choice floating in the air as dead (my experience with the Kingdom Hearts games) or even nothing at all except the choice of starting from point of death or starting from the saved point. With Warcraft, the gamer has an interesting experience of being able to actually play while the character is dead. One is not missing out on game time whatsoever. Death is quite literally a part of the living experience in Warcraft. The myriad experiments one can play around with while “dead” to learn from and use when one is “living” again, is extremely intriguing and I think this argument is perhaps the strongest Klastrup has to use to her advantage. Like one player said, “one death at the start changed my whole playing experience” (158).
Death is a part of a character’s life in Warcraft. Though death is a form of punishment to learn from mistakes and it may be as negative as death is in the real world, the nature of gaming still and often provides an escape into an alternate reality; Warcraft provides this alternate experience of death as a complement to life.