So you're playing your favourite shoot-em-up, a game you've developed a near-mastery of. You expertly dodge and weave through a stream of bullets and foes, making a mockery of the enemies' attempts to hit you. You effortlessly sail through the level, brushing off a few close calls but never once getting hit. As you near the end of the stage, your heart starts to beat faster. You realise you've almost got a perfect victory. If you can just hang on...
Then, suddenly, you make a mistake. An ill-timed move, a reaction that's a split-second too late, or perhaps just taking too much of a chance in an attempt to increase your score. Whatever the case, you are now dead and your chances of a perfect victory are shattered.
Death is at least partially expected in many types of games. It's the reason why you're given extra lives and/or continues in the first place. Some of those games, in recognition of the difficulty of clearing the game without dying, offer rewards for a perfect run - an achievement, an unlockable character, a special ending. Sometimes there is no explicit reward for not dying but the bonus in points or earnings makes the attempt worthwhile. Sometimes the reward is just bragging rights, the ability to load a video of your playthrough online and say to the world, "Look how awesome I am!"
And the single death (especially if it's near the end of the run) that mars the perfect victory is the perpetual blight of perfectionist gamers everywhere. If you know (or are) a gamer that has a particularly favoured "technical" game, you may see them hastily reset and grumble "I should have had that..." to themselves at the first sign of something going wrong, even though they probably still could have beaten the rest of the stage and/or the game without worrying about a game over.
As I referenced above, shoot-em-ups are probably the genre that best exemplifies this sort of death. The Touhou games are the example that springs most readily to my mind (typically an extra, ultra-hard stage is unlocked by clearing the game without continuing). Rhythm games are another great example (though in this case, it's usually a missed note rather than a full death that ruins the perfect run). My personal favourite example of this, however, comes from Super Smash Bros. Melee. One of the game's bonuses, which is required to unlock all the trophies, is "No Damage Clear", where the player must complete an entire single-player campaign without taking a single point of damage. On the easiest difficulty setting, the computer AI in SSBM is pretty simple to beat, but to get through an entire 11 matches without ever getting hit is still an incredibly tall order. And believe me (because I speak from experience), nothing sucks more than getting to the final boss, whittling his health down to almost nothing, then taking your first point of damage on an attack you should have been able to avoid.
So you're engrossed in a challenging game, utterly focussed on the task at hand. Perhaps you are crossing blades with a particularly challenging boss. Maybe you're commanding huge armies to victory over a doggedly resolute foe. Whatever the case, you are completely dialed in, your attention 100% dedicated to achieving victory. You are focussed - so focussed, in fact, that you don't notice the dark, menacing clouds gathering outside your window. You're close now - just a little longer and this elusive victory will be yours. Finally, your foe falls - your character stands above them, ready to deal the deathblow when suddenly, everything goes black.
The game, the lights, the heater/AC... everything. And as you sit there in an all-too-silent darkness, you realise that victory has once again eluded you. Not because of some slip-up or hidden foe... but because the universe hates you. And you will hate it right back.
Power failures, by a storm or accident, are the most common culprits in this category, though there are others. If you're playing on an old-school, non-backlit console, a sudden change in lighting conditions can suddenly leave you blind - though it may only take you a moment or two to locate the pause button, those few seconds of helplessness can prove fatal. Also for portable gamers is the dreaded "low battery" light. I swear the DS has a sensor that can detect when the player is in the middle of a lengthy and difficult final boss fight, far beyond the reach of a save point, because I have been in exactly that situation no fewer than three times and wound up sweating and screaming at the game to hurry up because the battery light came on and I was nowhere near a charger.
But batteries aren't just for portables anymore - and perhaps the single most aggravating instance of this form of death comes from wireless controllers and keyboards. There's nothing quite like lining up a perfect shot in an FPS only to have the batteries in a wireless mouse konk out just as you try to hit the fire button.
So you're tearing headlong through a particularly difficult section of a platformer. Your health is low, your hands are shaking, and you're desperately looking for a checkpoint of some kind. Fighting through waves of enemies and navigating a series of tricky jumps, you finally spot it: it's the level exit!! You make a break for it, dashing headlong towards the finish line. But then, it happens: just before you get there, an enemy pops out from a well-concealed hiding place and scrapes off the last bit of your health bar. Your character drops just a few in-game metres from the goal. And now you have to go back and do that whole section of the level (or, if you're really unlucky, the entire level) all over again.
Being forced to repeat a section of a game is almost never fun, regardless of how challenging it is. And the longer the section, the more infuriating it is to have to do over. Bonus points in the frustration factor if the game also includes one or more very long and unskippable cutscenes that ALSO have to be sat through again (boss fights are a fairly notorious offender in that category).
I picked on platformers in the example, but this particular frustrating death is fairly universal. It can also show up in shooters, beat-em-ups, RPGs, and even rhythm games. Don't believe me on that last one? Play through Freebird on Guitar Hero 2 on the highest difficulty and get back to me. For the uninitiated, most of the song is slow, relaxed and pretty difficult to screw-up. You can coast along pretty easily right until the very end of the song (which is nine minutes long, by the way), whereupon the game throws a flurry of horribly hard to hit notes at you that can singlehandedly torch your game. The developers apparently decided to repeat that trick when making Rock Band because an almost identical sequence shows up at the end of ANOTHER marathon track in Green Grass and High Tides.
So you're busy playing chessmaster in your favourite strategy game, numbers scrolling up on the screen as your units trade blows with the enemy. The battle has reached a tipping point, the momentum swinging in your favour as you stand on the cusp of victory. As your carefully laid out plan reaches its zenith, you press your advantage, your biggest, burliest unit leading the charge with only a single, pathetically underlevelled enemy in his path. But then... then something goes wrong. Horribly, disastrously wrong. That underlevelled enemy charges, some sharp sound effects play to signify a series of increasingly unlikely critical hits, and suddenly there's a gigantic hole in your battleline where your toughest unit used to be. As the enemy countercharges and your now-breached defensive line crumbles, you can only sit and stare, jaw slightly agape, at the David who conquered your Goliath. The phrase "That wasn't supposed to happen" will likely pass your lips - first with quiet disbelief, then, soon, with barely controlled rage.
Congratulations, you just got screwed over by statistics.
The field of statistics is a cruel mistress in many, many ways. Part of the problem comes from the fact that the human brain simply isn't wired to intuitively understand how probability works. There are dozens of statistical fallacies out there, such as Neglect of Probability, the Gambler's Fallacy, Base Rate Fallacy, and the Cluster Illusion, and every single one of them works against gamers in games heavily defined by probability (such as most turn-based SRPGs).
But sometimes, even with a simple single-variable probability check, you can wind up getting seriously burned by basic math. Anyone who has ever played Fire Emblem for any reasonable length of time can probably relate a story or three about the game defying the odds to ruin an otherwise perfectly laid-out plan. The game is helpful enough to tell you the statistics (specifically the chance to hit, the damage that will be dealt, and the chance to "crit" and deal triple damage, all for both your unit and the enemy's) of any fight before you initiate combat, which should make things pretty simple. Unfortunately, because statistics is the way it is, every once in a while a wildly improbable event will occur. I can still vividly recall an occurance in FE8 where I had killed every enemy on a long, arduous map, save for the boss. I confidently moved one of my weaker units into position for an attack, knowing that even if the boss hit that unit, he wouldn't deal enough damage to kill it and said boss's chance of a critical hit was only 1%. I'll let you guess what happened next. (Note that in Fire Emblem, dead units cannot be revived - even a single loss can be devastating for the party and will ruin a perfect game).
The absolute master of this entry, however, is Pokemon. The game has three status conditions - Confusion, Charm, and Paralysis - that give a Pokemon a chance (either 25% or 50%, depending on the condition) of not attacking normally on its turn. This should, in theory, result in your monster obeying you more often than not, but reality often turns out very different. And let me tell you, nothing is more infuriating than having a confusion-afflicted Pokemon punch itself five times in the face and faint against an enemy that it would have one-shotted if it had managed to get even a single attack off. It gets even worse in multiplayer, where trolltastic opponents can amplify the rage by continually shouting "Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself! Why are you hitting yourself?!"
So your crack squad is moving through the blasted ruins of some cityscape or another, intent on seeking out the foe and delivering death. Suddenly, there they are! The enemy! Your team expertly fans out, launching your assault in a blistering hail of fire. You cling closely to cover, careful not to let the foe get off a clean shot at you. Soon the fight is over, and the remains of the opposing force is retreating off into the mists. You stand to celebrate your victory... and suddenly your character collapses, dead. What happened? Was there an enemy sniper you missed? A flank you forgot to cover? Your answer comes a moment later, as one of your friends sheepishly mutters, "Oops! Sorry, dude..."
Yes, it's the time honoured team-kill. Few things in gaming are as frustrating as being taken out of the game by the person whose job it was to keep you in it. The team kill comes in many different flavours, all of them distinct, all of them infuriating. There's the deliberate team-kill, committed by a troll or a plant from the other side, where the attacks are intentional and planned out to try and shatter any chances you have of winning. There's the incompetence team-kill, where you wind up on the wrong end of a player who doesn't realise that using a grenade launcher to kill an enemy who has just rushed into a horde of friendlies is probably not a good idea. There's the revenge team-kill, where someone who was just team-killed themselves comes back and murders their killer (note: this will frequently spawn a rapidly escalating chain of revenge-kills which may or may not draw in other players, at which point your odds for successfully completing whatever mission you're trying to accomplish are pretty much zero). And, of course, there's the AI team-kill, where allied AI players wind up causing your death by just being themselves (for instance, by standing in the middle of a narrow hallway and blocking your escape path from the eldritch monstrosity that is two steps behind you).
Shooters tend to be the most fertile ground for team-kills, but almost any co-op game that features friendly fire can work in a team-kill or two. Some platformers have even gotten in on the mix, most notoriously Battletoads and the multiplayer New Super Mario Bros. games (try and time how fast your friendship disintegrates after having your carefully timed jump turned into a death-dive by a friend bouncing off your head).
#5: Death by Lag
So you're in the midst of a heated online match of your shooter of choice, frantically pursuing your foe through a winding urban maze/muddy trench/alien hive. The match has come down to the wire, with the next kill claiming victory. You round a corner and suddenly spot a foe in the distance. His back is to you - he hasn't seen you yet. This is your perfect opportunity. Brandishing the most powerful weapon in your inventory, you hastily line up your shot, hands shaking with anticipation. You pull the trigger.
...and watch as the enemy character twitches slightly under what should have been a fatal shot. Confused, you fire again and receive the exact same outcome. Then you notice it... he's awfully still. So is everyone else. The realisation of what's just happened hits you a split second later, but its too late. Suddenly everything blurs into motion too fast for the eye to follow, enemies and allies swirling around the screen far faster than they should. Your screen flashes red and just like that, you're dead.
Another victim of the lag monster.
The antithesis of online gamers everywhere, lag is the enemy that has ruined countless deathmatches and left many a gamer fuming over a loss that should have been a win. It comes from many different sources - sometimes a slow internet connection is to blame, or perhaps a computer whose specs are just a little too outdated to be running the game. Sometimes it's the host's fault, his/her machine not up to the rigours of an online match. Sometimes it's an issue with the parent company, high traffic overloading login and authentication servers.
Regardless of the source, it's a tremendously frustrating way to die, made all the more so by the fact that few gamers will accept it as an excuse for a close-fought loss. Grumbling, "Damn lag," will seldom get you anything resembling sympathy and you will be far more likely to be on the receiving end of a, "QQ more, n00b!" quip.
So you're tromping through your favourite RPG, kicking ass and taking names. You blast through a couple of dungeons without even coming close to death. Bosses bow to your implacable might. NPCs swoon as you pass. But then, unexpectedly, your destructive rampage comes to a screeching halt. Maybe you encounter a surprise boss and didn't heal up beforehand. Maybe the new dungeon you entered has a super-strong enemy you didn't know about. Maybe a Malboro hit you with Bad Breath and status-screwed your entire party. But one way or another, for all your consummate gaming skill and tactical prowess, you find yourself staring at a Game Over screen. Still digesting the loss, a sudden, niggling thought worms its way into your mind, urgent in a quiet, understated way. An icy feeling seizes your gut, and you slowly start to think back and wonder ...when was the last time I saved?
If gamers - RPG gamers in particular - have a mantra that they live and die by, it is this: save early and save often. Though this kernel of wisdom involves a relatively innocuous task, gamers ignore it at their peril. And ignore it they do, for this seed of truth is one that must be planted in the cold, hard soil of experience and gestated by the fires of unending fury. Yes, like many of life's most valuable lessons, this is knowledge that cannot be taught; it must be learned - the hard way. I am willing to bet every gamer reading this has been on the wrong side of this experience at least once.
For gamers, even a brief moment of laxity or impatience can cost hours of work. Frustratingly, it's actually becoming EASIER to commit this sort of egregious lapse in judgement thanks to the "save point" becoming a rarer and rarer feature. Back in the day, whether you were playing a platformer or an FPS or an RPG, checkpoints and/or save points were limited. Back then, being diligent about one's saves was easy - simply use a save point whenever one popped up. But today we are increasingly seeing games that can be saved at any point in time and, thus, the onus passes to the players to remember to save at regular intervals. And if you happen to get really into the game and forget to save for a while, that's practically an open invitation for some super-powered monstrosity to suddenly rear its ugly head.
Many of the entries on this list are frustrating because they are unavoidable and have nothing to do with the player - no amount of skill will save you from an unlucky critical hit or untimely battery loss. But this entry is the exact opposite - it is infuriating BECAUSE it is so easily avoidable. You cannot blame an opponent or a teammate or faulty hardware or the uncaring nature of the universe... the fault is yours, and that somehow makes it even worse.
So you have decided to undertake the most difficult challenge your game of choice can throw at you. Maybe you're facing down an uber-hard boss, or running an endurance test, or finishing that stupidly difficult minigame challenge. Whatever the case, you're determined to see it through. This is the last challenge the game has to offer - once you've finished it, your mastery will be undisputed. And though it is known for it's soul-crushing difficulty amongst your fellow gamers, you are confident that you will be up to the task.
You die, of course. That was to be expected - it is, after all, a very hard challenge. So you pick yourself up, hit the retry button... and die again. And again and again and again. The minutes drift into hours and still success eludes you. At some points, it seems like you're making no progress at all. At some points, it will seem like you're going backwards. A rare handful of occasions, the game will dangle ultimate victory in front of you, tantilizingly close, before snatching it away and casting you back into the abyss.
Slowly, your patience will start to erode, your steadfast optimism replaced by surly bitterness. But you can't give up now; if you do, the game wins. You can't let it beat you. So you persevere, like a prize fighter who refuses to stay down. This is generally when the muttering starts - growling lowly, you will start cursing the game, the idiots who came up with this stupid challenge, and yourself for not having beaten the damn thing yet. As the losses pile up, victory still no closer than it was when you started, those mutterings will evolve into snarled threats, hissed curses, and screams of rage. Woe betide anyone who dares interrupt you at this point of the challenge, because even the most cheerful greeting will be taken as a declaration of war.
This form of death(s) spans consoles and genres, as it can be experienced on any game with a suitably difficult challenge. There are, however, some particularly notorious examples of games that can inspire this form of rage. Various homebrew or indie games have been built with this level of challenge in mind ("I Wanna Be The Guy: The Movie: The Game" is probably the most notorious, though a series of Mario ROM-hacks, known categorically as "Kaizo Mario" games are similarly teeth-grinding). Probably my favourite mainstream example, however, is a well-known challenge from the Gamecube: F-Zero GX, Chapter 7, Very Hard. Easily the most challenging mission the game throws at you (and arguably one of the most difficult challenges of the generation), Chapter 7 requires you to win a race against 29 other seemingly-superpowered racers (who all drive faster than you do) on a blisteringly challenging course. It's hard enough on the lower difficulties, but beating it on the game's highest setting (which is required to unlock one of the secret characters) is one of gaming's purest expressions of masochism. This particular mission was the subject of a wonderfully furious internet rant titled "It's not any fun unless I can win" (warning if you decide to look this one up: it's VERY much NSFW).
So you're locked in an epic death-match with your rival - your best friend, your co-worker, your little brother, whoever. The duel is hard-fought, with neither of you able to initially gain the upper hand. But as the match wears on, you start to pull ahead, first in small increments, then by leaps and bounds. As the bout draws into its final stanza, you are sitting on a comfortable lead, your victory all but assured. But then... something happens. Your opponent has the one-shot kill weapon spawn right in front of them. A random NPC triggers a trap just as you pass into the kill zone. The game's patented "last-minute fluke device" winds up stripping you of all your hard-earned widgets, leaving you next to no time to recover. And just like that, it's over - and, against all logic, reason, and sense of karmic justice, you lost.
Most games are primarily decided by skill, with luck providing minor boosts to random players. But every once in a while, a game comes along that occasionally chooses its results 100% completely based on random chance. And if the universe decides you're going to lose that game then it doesn't matter how well you play or what sort of a lead you build up, you are going to lose that game.
Nintendo's multiplayer games are the big culprits here. Build up a big lead in Mario Kart? Watch as your opponents all get blue shells in the last lap. Are you the undisputed king of Smash Bros.? You won't be when your opponents happen to get heart containers and hammers dropping right in front of them. However, the absolute worst offender in this category is Mario Party. Arguably appropriate, given that it's supposed to be a digital board game, the entire game can be decided by a lucky roll of the dice on the final turn. Quite literally, no lead in this game is safe. If one of your opponents goes last, lands on a Chance Time space, and the roulette wheel decides that you and he trade stars, then that's that - you lose. You lose and there is absolutely nothing you could have done differently to win. You were fated to lose that game - it was your destiny. All your skill at winning those minigames, all your hard work at collecting those stars, all your shrewd tactics to block your opponents from catching up to you... it's all for naught. And you will rage if this happens to you.
So you're at the tail-end of a several hour long gaming binge. You've gotten a lot done - gained some XP for your character, maybe found a new rare item... you know, some real progress. You're just about to sign off for the night, but decide to play just another minute or two longer. Bam! Suddenly, through a careless mistake or stroke of unfortunate luck, you're dead. And that death just erased every last bit of work you did since you started playing that evening.
Some games are deliberately designed to punish player death above and beyond what we consider normal, undoing the player's work and inspiring them to throw their controller at the nearest hard surface. Diablo II, for example, flat-out robbed the player when they died. It started innocuously enough by stripping the player of most or all of the gold they were carrying. Given that gold was relatively easy to come by, this was generally not a major issue, even for low-level players (and it was easily avoided by storing gold in town instead of on one's person). However, as players reached the higher difficulty settings, the game would not only steal gold, but also experience - for high-level characters, this amounted to hours of work. Not helping matters was the fact that, in Hell difficulty, some of the game's elite enemies were stacked up with bonuses that basically allowed them to one-shot player characters.
But at least XP could be reliably, if tediously, earned back. Some other games were not so forgiving. Oldschool online RPGs, like Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast, had a particularly nasty punishment for death that caused the player character to drop some or all of their equipment on death. If you happened to be carrying a rare weapon... well, better hope your teammates were the honourable sort, or that would be the last you saw of that rare drop. That practice has largely fallen out of favour in today's day and age, but it still pops up from time to time. The sandbox smash-hit Minecraft, for instance, empties the player's entire inventory upon death. This gets particularly vexing if the player falls into lava, as the damage will kill them and the lava will immediately destroy all their items, including any rare and/or enchanted gear they might be carrying.
Few things in the world are as adept at prompting ragequits as watching a game nullify several hours of your life.
So hopefully that list didn't dredge up too many painful memories. Just remember: the rage you feel at these deaths will make your eventual victory that much sweeter.
Thanks for reading!
List by darkknight109 (11/26/2012)
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