The Lost Joy of Suicide

by Seth Nadel

Through all the showiness and glamour of modern video games on all systems, some of the most basic and fun aspects of video game playing in general have faded into the background. Activities such as platform jumping and collecting 100 stars/hearts/fruits/etc. to get an extra life are fast becoming a thing of the past. What saddens me most, however, is the impending extinction of one of my favorite parts of any game, killing myself.

There are many reasons in any video game that one might have to take their own life. Missed that vital jump to a super-weapon? Jumping off a cliff will bring you right back to that ledge. Stuck in a pit? No worries, just parade into a dozen enemies and let the natural course of the game do the backtracking for you. Sometimes you don’t even have a reason to do it at all, but what could equal the thrill of seeing your character meet his glorious fate in the worst kind of way at that very moment? All it cost you was one expendable extra life.

During the days of the 8-bit systems, voluntary suicide thrived throughout every genre. Platform games, action games, adventures, and even RPG’s benefited from the ability to take one’s own life. The most prolific phrase during this era while playing the good old NES was undisputedly “Just kill yourself and try again.” There was something about this simple activity that could provoke a wide range of reactions and emotions from being annoyed at the loss of one extra life to boundless glee in seeing countless foes descend upon your luckless character. Every serious video gaming enthusiast will acknowledge that this was indeed a Golden Age of interactive entertainment.

The coming of the 16-bit Genesis and to a lesser extent the Super Nintendo kept the tradition going strong. Even in these times, though, the occasional appearance of the dreadful “Restart Level” option stared people in the face as they paused momentarily to get food, blow their nose, or do some other activity that could not be accomplished during the action of the game. This marked the beginning of the end for the venerable tradition, but many games during this period still managed to fight adversity and sport high cliffs and maze-like caves, which could only be escaped by doing the unthinkable.

Flash forward to the late 90’s and along comes the third generation of home entertainment systems, Nintendo 64, Playstation and Saturn. This marked the end of the once proud and fruitful certainty of video gaming. Every game from sports to adventures packed on the luxury of restarting this stage or that track. Killing oneself became reserved only to aggravated gamers who would rather see their unfortunate charges suffer than admit their lack of game playing skill and RPG’ers who, rather than get up out of they chairs to press Reset, would sit back and let their party die to get back to the opening screen and play on another saved game.

And so died the once much-loved tradition. I can’t even muster as much as a pathetic cheer for the upcoming fourth generation systems, packaged only with the inevitability that they cannot bring it back to life. I can’t ask much of the readers of this editorial, just to occasionally stop and say a silent prayer that some game developer, somewhere, at some time will realize the lucrative and moral opportunities or the resurrection of character suicides. Only then can we live in a truly perfect world.

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