Not many people are ready to deal with death in their real lives. It takes an incredibly strong, self-aware, and reflective individual to have prepared themselves for what we all inevitably face. Therefore, facing it in your hobby rarely creates a safe and enjoyable space for the person who has lost a long-term part of their life. No, it’s not the same as losing a friend or family member to the great beyond, but campaign characters are years-long fictional companions which the player has usually poured in a great amount of time, money, thought, and emotional space. I even wrote a piece about giving yourself the permission to grieve when losing such character relationships, but it didn’t really touch on how players and game runners design to better handle death. Frankly, it’s something a lot of games and player don’t handle well, so it’s worth examining.
A Well Designed Death
Death is not a subject I’ve managed to find my comfort with yet. I think most people live in the same ‘pretending it’s not going to happen’ bubble that I do, and yet we participate in games where it’s something we need to face on a semi-regular basis. From long term campaign larps where there is a possibility of permanently killing a character in unplanned fashions, to events like Inside Hamlet, where the goal of many players is to create the most epic death possible, it’s a theme we often explore in larp. For game designers, deciding on how to handle death in your event is a pivotal design choice and one that will make or break a player’s experience if it’s handled well.