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Death as Game Mechanic

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Gaming, being an interactive medium, offers many possibilities that other media simply cannot replicate, including what comes after death. So many games now have the possibility of affecting gameplay based on player death. Death is not an interruption of gameplay, it is an actual event with consequences and ramifications. The death of the player character is not the end, it opens the door to new things.

To qualify for this trope, the game needs to meet the following criteria:

  • It should include a Character Death or a direct subtrope, not Playing Possum or similar.
  • It is the player character that dies. Loads of games have mechanics change based on NPCs dying, but few actually have the death of the player character themselves affect gameplay.
  • The player character's death is, to an extent, avoidable. If the death is a Plotline Death or a But Thou Must! moment, it's not this trope. However, the game might have both instances apply to the character (i.e. some of the game's puzzles require you to die, but throughout most of the game it's avoidable).
  • Dying does not end the game, but instead triggers different game mechanics to come into play. This means that Non Standard Game Over is NOT a version of this trope. A NSGO may be different from regular dying, but it still ends the game.

Many games which use Death As Mechanic make it an integral part of gameplay by to an extent, making it an attractive option to die or being so insanely Nintendo Hard that it is only a matter of time for the player to die and have the issue forced on them. For the most part, though, skilled players can delay the inevitable or outright avoid death through skillful play, and may choose to die based on story ramifications or gameplay possibility. Death may be also the action that changes worlds in games with Dual-World Gameplay. The bottom line is that, whether voluntary or not, death affects gameplay instead of merely ending it.

Since player character death often allows for a player to easily warp to different places, 'deathwarping' is a pretty common practice in Speed Running, where every millisecond shaved off the total run time is important.

Mercy Mode is a fairly common sub-trope of this, where death opens up the possibility of making the game far less challenging in any number of ways. Continuing is Painful is the opposite sub-trope, where dying results in mechanics that make the game more challenging. Compare Death-Activated Superpower and Death Is the Only Option, both of which, though more general, can easily coincide with this trope. Auto-Revive may overlap with this trope if you get back resources upon death, do a special attack when you're revived, or if you can delay the revival to achieve a similar effect to Playing Possum.

See also Justified Extra Lives, an in-universe explanation for 1-ups. Contrast with tropes related to deaths ending the game with no further impact on gameplay, like Video-Game Lives, Game Over, and Checkpoint.


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Video game examples:

    Action Adventure 
  • Sam Bridges from Death Stranding is a repatriate who can come back from dying, but not before his soul pays a visit to the Seam, the realm between the Beach and the land of the living. While in the Seam, he can collect the items that he dropped upon dying as well as interact with the souls of other players who died in the same area in order to form a contract with them, increasing the chances of those players' structures and lost items appearing in the world. Furthermore, if Sam was killed by a Catcher-type BT, a voidout occurs and creates a crater that he won't be able to traverse once he repatriates.
  • In Legacy Of Kain: Soul Reaver, Raziel gets thrown into the underworld when he dies and can come back out. There's puzzles which require doing within the underworld to proceed.
  • LEGO Dimensions: If playing as the Twelfth Doctor, dying will result in him turning into the First Doctor. Dying then will result in changing to a later incarnation of The Doctor until you have lapsed back to the Twelfth. However, this mechanic only happens after completing the Doctor Who level pack. Otherwise, the Twelfth Doctor will just respawn like any other character.
  • In Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame, in order to obtain the title Flame (which will allow the Prince to kill the Big Bad), the player must willfully kill the Prince in a certain room halfway ,through and not do anything when the camera lingers on the Prince's corpse like it happens every time the Prince is killed elsewhere, because after a few se therwise will just be Yet Another Stupid Death).
  • One of the core mechanics of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is Sekiro's Resurrection ability, which lets him come back to life moments after his death. That isn't enough to qualify for the trope, except that being a corpse has strategic value. Enemies will stop being aggressive and go back to their routines once you do, so dying can be a great way to sneak past a group of enemies or to catch them in a surprise attack.
  • The Bio-Electric Instincts perk from Spider-Man: Miles Morales gives Miles a Death-Activated Superpower where any time he dies, he explodes in a Venom Blast and regains full-health.
  • Whenever you die in Super Time Force, you respawn at the start of the level and an NPC representing your past life spawns that takes every action you did in your previous life. So if you kill an enemy and then die, this NPC will kill that enemy and die and you can move on and do other stuff.

    Adventure Game 
  • Quantic Dream:
    • Detroit: Become Human: Getting either Kara or Markus killed results in their portions of the game ending and becoming unplayable. Killing Connor, however, simply results in him coming back in the next chapter. His deaths are commented on and the player might not initially realize anything is different, but every time Connor dies it becomes more difficult for him to turn deviant, eventually locking the player out of the choice if he dies too many times.
    • Heavy Rain doesn't end with a player character's death, instead acknowledging it and including the repercussions of the character's death in the storyline.
  • Several of the achievements in Achievement Unlocked require the elephant to die a lot or in specific ways.
  • The protagonist of The Cat Lady is a resurrective immortal who returns to life in perfect health whenever she dies. One particular puzzle sees her blinded by the villains and requires her to find a gun and commit suicide to restore her vision.
  • In the FMV game Star Trek: Borg you need to make the right sequence of choices. If you don't already know them, you have to die over and over again until the right choice is made. However, at one point you have to choose the "wrong" path so you can learn important information from the Borg before you die, information that will be necessary to succeed later on in your next chance at life.
  • In the (semi)text adventure Trilby's Notes, you can kill yourself by typing the command "die". For most of the game, it's nothing more than a particularly stupid way to get a game over. However, there's a specific point in the plot where the villain needs you alive for their plan, so at that point you have to type "die" to foil them and win the game.

  • In Sifu, when you die, your magic talisman will revive you at the cost of aging you. As you get older, your gain slightly increased damage, but lower health. Also, you can only upgrade your skills after dying. Dying too frequently increases the rate at you age, and at Age 70+, you become too old to revive, leading to Permadeath.

    Fighting Game 
  • It's only a specific character example, but in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, if Phoenix (as in Jean Grey, not the lawyer) is defeated with 5 hyper bars, she'll be revived to full health, transform into Dark Phoenix and become much more powerful.
  • The 3D Saint Seiya games made by Bandai Namco and Dimps (Chronicles, Brave Soldiers and Soldiers' Soul) have the option to revive for a last battle after being defeated, in which just like in the series, the fallen Saint is on the ground and the spirit of Goddess Athena (Saori Kiddo) as well someone loved by the Saint encourage him/her to get up and continue living, with the player smashing buttons to make energy to the Saint can get up. If the player achieves it, the Saint comes back to the battle with a portion of energy to finish the battle. But if it's beaten again, the mashing buttons would be harder in the next intent until the Saint can't get up again.
  • In Samurai Shodown IV, you've the secret move called "Honorable Death", in which the player can commit a Heroic Suicide (being a "Samurai" game, it's usually a Seppuku) and depletes all their energy bar to start the next round with their power bar full.
  • One of the options in Towerfall allows dead players in multiplayer pvp to come back as ghosts who can attack the remaining players.

    First-Person Shooter 
  • Dying in Deathloop causes Colt to teleport back to a safe location far away from where you died. This ability makes dying a viable strategy for going back into stealth, escaping other players invading your game, and quickly returning to certain locations after luring enemies away.
  • The Descent franchise has extra lives as a mechanic, and if you die you respawn at the same location you started the level in, although almost all of your weapons, ammo, and powerups are left floating around the area where you died. Notably, though, any color-coded keycards you may have picked up are not dropped, but remain with you after you respawn.
  • Prey (2006): After a certain point in the game death no longer brings up a game over screen. Instead, Tommy enters the spirit realm and battles wraiths. Killing red ones increases the health you respawn with, the same for blue wraiths and mana. After a short time the player is thrown back into the land of the living.
  • Getting killed in any Unreal Tournament installment is an easy way to return to your base quickly from the other side of the map, if you don't mind losing your weapons and getting a death in score tab. This is a viable strategy especially in Bombing Run matches, where you have to prevent the enemy ball-carrier from reaching your goal. For the currently offending team, killing the enemies makes it actually harder for the ball-carrier to deliver their "payload" as every killed enemy will just get in their way again.

  • Guild Wars had a strange emergent case of this. There was an effective limit on leveling up in the tutorial area because eventually you reach the point where enemies stop giving XP. But some enterprising players discovered that enemies can also gain XP by killing player characters. Thus, with an absurd amount of grinding to level up the enemies and then killing them, it became possible to reach the game's level cap without ever completing the prologue (it helps that the game has an Absurdly Low Level Cap). The developers eventually acknowledged this by granting a special title to those who did it.
  • Dying in The Secret World can allow you to travel through the world as a ghost, talk to other ghosts, and even go to locations unavailable to the living.
  • Urban Dead revolves around this. As a survivor, you will die more often sooner than later. You get turned into a zombie then, where you must learn the player made language from zombie moans, you move much slower, and your attacks aren't as powerful. In comparison, players who start as a zombie have more potential to become quite powerful, but survivors can revive you and return you back to life. Your skills as a survivor won't be as powerful as anyone who started as a survivor.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • Several quests can only be accessed while the player is dead because the NPCs that start the quests are only visible to ghosts/wisps.
    • In the Gorefiend boss fight in Hellfire Citadel, players who die are absorbed by the boss and go into his stomach, which has additional mechanics. These are necessary to successfully beat the encounter, so if no one dies "normally" they can deliberately kill themselves with other mechanics.

    Racing Game 
  • On Mario Kart DS, dying early while playing multiplayer Balloon fight or the shine runners results in your character turning into a ghost until the end of the battle. The ghost can't interact with the alive players, but they can summon item boxes and get a dose on revenge by purposely putting them near fake boxes.
  • Losing all your balloons in Mario Kart 64 has you transform into a mobile bomb, allowing you to get revenge on the player who eliminated you or blowing up someone else out of spite. Players who are bombs can interact with item boxes, but they cannot use them.

    Party Game 
  • Dying in Among Us lets the player keep playing as a transparent ghost who can interact with the ship, but not the players. So they can complete tasks or sabotage the ship, but they can't speak during meetings or kill innocents. A later update added another type of ghost called Guardian Angels, who can prevent the Imposter from killing other players if they time their protection right.
  • Goose Goose Duck: Dying in general does not end the game, as players can observe the game as ghosts or even enter a Spectator Mode. Some roles, however, have dying as an inherent part of their function.
    • The Canadian Goose role automatically forces the player who kills them to report finding the body, when their plan otherwise might have been to kill and hide or kill and leave. If other players know who the Canadian Goose was, it essentially exposes them as the killer.
    • When the Celebrity Goose dies, all other Goose players are alerted to their death. Non-Goose players (Ducks, Vultures, Falcons, etc) are not alerted. This can cause a careless player in a non-Goose role to accidentally expose themselves due to not being aware of the Celebrity's death.
    • The Medium Goose can regularly check to see how many dead players there are. Earlier versions of the role allowed them to see the ghosts of dead players themselves.
    • The Mortician Goose can study a player's dead body and determine what role they had been while alive.
    • The Dodo Bird role is unique in that their goal is not to survive. A Dodo wins the game by deliberately getting voted out of the game, something that would simply kill any other player.
  • Dying in the The Jackbox Party Pack game Trivia Murder Party lets you continue playing as a ghost. Ghosts are out of the running for getting a head start in the final mini-game, but get to be in charge of punishing other players for getting questions wrong and they get no penalty for guessing incorrectly themselves. Ghosts also can move slightly faster in the final mini-game, at the price of being unable to win unless they steal the life-force of the last man standing.

    Platform Game 
  • When you die in the Azure Striker Gunvolt Series, there's a chance that your support partner will appear and activate her Anthem Septima, resurrecting the player with a massive power-up strong enough to completely tear your way through the rest of the stage. The one caveat is that it drops your score to 0, preventing you from earning a good rank or any of the benefits that come with it.
  • The "death-warping" exploit in the first three Crash Bandicoot games make collecting stage Plot Coupons easier. To elaborate, you won't lose any of the stage collectables when you die, and you'll be put on the last Checkpoint you opened. This allows for tricks that allows you to get more than 1 collectables in a single stage run. One example: In the Spaced Out stage in the second game, there's a special platform that leads you to another path of the stage, and the end of that path is the stage's second "gem"... and another exit. Players will usually open a checkpoint in the stage's main path, then go to the side path to get the second gem, then die (by falling into a pit) and then respawn to the main path to collect the other collectables (the "crystal" and the "box gem"). This saves more time than if you exit through the stage's second exit or if you backtrack to the start of the fork.
  • Karoshi is all about finding a way to kill yourself, something the level design deliberately wants you not to do.
  • Some user created levels in LittleBigPlanet require Sackboy to trigger a checkpoint, use a mechanism to move the checkpoint past an otherwise impassable obstacle, and die to respawn from the checkpoint at its new position.
  • In Malice, dying on a normal level sends you to the Underworld where you can return to the beginning of the level you died on (basicaly use a continue) by speaking to the Grim Reaper. However the Underworld can also be explored and there are items to collect hidden in it. So while it is possible to beat the game without visiting the Underworld, to achieve 100% completion you have to die at some point since that's the only way to reach it.
  • Dying in Kirby Fighters Deluxe causes Kirby to become Ghost Kirby, who can fly around the stage freely and can attack with a short-ranged punch. Punching a living Kirby deals damage and brings you back to life to fight again. The more times you die, the longer you stay down before turning into Ghost Kirby and the less health you resurrect with later.
  • In the indie platformer Respawn Man, the title Player Character's defining power is endlessly coming back to life—but his bodies remain behind, which is key to defeating most levels, as you have him die on top of a button to keep it pressed, stack his bodies as a ladder to reach higher places, use his bodies to cushion long falls, etc.
  • You play as a block in Sometimes You Die that must die so you can use its corpse as a platform to reach the end of each level.
  • In Verge, death only means being respawned underneath the level with flipped gravity. Respawning in the main area is done by entering one of many doors in the area of the dead.

    Puzzle Game 
  • One of the actions you can perform in the Lemmings games is make one of your lemmings explode. It isn't just a simple Video Game Cruelty Potential, as the poor creature will open a path with the blast radius of its Suicide Bombing. Most of the levels are designed to include at least some explosions, some even requiring to explode every single lemming minus one to finish them.
  • Life Goes On centers around the mechanic of you having an unlimited supply of overly confident knights and being able to use their bodies to solve puzzles.

    Real-Time Strategy 
  • Crusader Kings II lets you take over playing as you character's heir when you die, as well as changing up the size and wealth of your kingdom depending on if your previous player character or his heir has a better reputation.

  • Crawl: Up to four lost souls are competing for the chance to return to life and escape the dungeon. Only one player can be "alive" at a time, exploring the dungeon with typical roguelike mechanics, while the other three players activate traps or summon controllable monsters to slay the adventurer and take his place. Notably, the game begins with all four players alive, but they're trapped in a room and forced to murder one-another to decide who starts as the adventurer.
  • In Hades, every time Zagreus dies, he returns to the House of Hades, where he gets to spend gems and darkness that he collected during his runs on house upgrades (gems) and personal upgrades in the mirror (darkness). He can also unlock weapons and make these weapons more powerful with other items collected during runs. Finally, both at the House and during runs, he can improve relationships with other gods by means of nectar and later ambrosia.
  • In Inscryption, if you lose a run, you get to create a death card, combining the cost, stats, and sigils of different cards in your deck, before your photo is taken and you are turned into a card. This card will be available in future runs.
  • Returnal: Every time the main character Selene perishes, time loops to the moment where her ship crashed, albeit with the weapons and power-ups she collected and paths she unlocked still available.
  • Rogue Legacy plays with the concept of Permadeath in this fashion. When your character dies, he's gone, you have to start with a new one. However, the new character is the child of the previous one, and inherits stats and equipment from the parent, but allowing you to change classes and pick different genetic conditions. There WILL be times when you'll purposely kill your character because of convenience or to see if you get a successor with a less crippling genetic trait.
  • In Zettai Hero Project, you will die a LOT, but every time you do you add a little more to your overall stats, or a LOT more if you play well and manage to explore deeper into the dungeon.

    Role-Playing Game 
  • Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter allows you to "SOL Restart" or "SOL Restore" after a game over, which carries over any Party XP earned to either a new game or your last Save Token save. It can also unlock new story scenes.
  • The Demon's Souls/Dark Souls series. It is theoretically possible to not die (although not likely), but dying is not the end. When you're killed, you can play the game as undead and there are various different mechanics in play, both beneficial and detrimental. In fact, with the Soul Tendency system, death is actually a tool to get cooler loot by making the game harder. Also, the mechanics of multiplayer in the games revolve around death: undead players can become phantoms who assist living players, and get rewards for doing so including being resurrected. Undead players are also protected from invasion by other players, so it can be quite to one's benefit to not revive.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II: Godwoken like the Player Party are canonically less bound by mortality, hence why they can use Resurrection Scrolls. A PC can also gain Talents that make them explode when killed and Auto-Revive afterwards.
  • During certain battles in Kingdom Hearts II, Mickey Mouse might show and give you the chance to play as him. You can fight the boss as Mickey (though you can't bring him to 0 HP) and build up energy to revive Sora. If Mickey loses all of his health, he will revive Sora with only half of his maximum health. He appears less frequently the more often he is used.
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor: Talion, the main character, can come back to life after being killed, and each death affects the world. The game has a political system for the different orc clans, and the orc who gets the killing stroke on you can earn promotion in the orc totem pole, causing a chain reaction of political intrigue, with some orcs seeking favor with the newly promoted one while others try to kill the promoted orc to take his place on the totem pole. Enemy orcs even ACKNOWLEDGE that you died and came back, and can actually taunt and throw mocking nicknames at you if you keep getting repeatedly killed by them.
  • In NieR: Automata, the fact that you play robotic androids is driven home early in the game by its death mechanics:
    • As you explore the game world, you encounter save points (disguised as derelict vending machines) where you can store a backup copy of your character's software components (like XP and weaponry)... but not the hardware (chips) installed on the current mobile platform (body). When you die, your physical body goes offline, and the last save point you accessed produces a spare body of the same model and installs your backed-up software onto it, allowing you to continue the game — however, if you want your chips back, you will actually have to retrieve your old body.
    • If you play with online connectivity enabled, you will regularly encounter other players' discarded bodies scattered where their characters died (which can accidentally spoil the locations of major boss battles later in the story). If you interact with them, you can choose between having the body fight for you as a mindless combat drone for a short while, or just getting a temporary stat bonus based on what chips they had installed when they died. This is justified in-story by the fact that the androids are fighting a war against machine lifeforms, and you are encouraged to retrieve fallen androids' frames in order to preserve resources for the war effort.
    • Finally, when the androids' HQ, the Bunker, is destroyed in Route C and the androids lose access to the spare body production line, every death from that point on simply dumps you into the main menu, like in any other game.
  • Planescape: Torment features this as an integral part of both story and gameplay. Your character can die and, when he does, he remembers more of his past and recovers abilities. You can also use your death for puzzle solving.
  • South Park: The Fractured but Whole: When Mysterion (AKA Kenny McCormick) dies in battle, he remains on the battlefield as a ghost that can cast a variety of debuffing moves on the enemy. His Limit Break also changes from a suicide attack ("Cruel Fate") to a self-resurrection ability that heals his team-mates ("Mysterion Re-rising").
  • In Torment: Tides of Numenera, when the Last Castoff dies, they travel to the Castoff's Labyrinth—a strange extradimensional space where they can interact with fragments of their own psyche and with previous Castoffs, before finding their way back out, and coming back to life in the real world.
  • In Trillion: God of Destruction, you train Overlords and send them out to fight the eponymous Trillion, a Damage-Sponge Boss with one trillion HP. Your Overlords are intended to die during the fight; the first few won't be able to do more than whittle down Trillion's HP a tiny bit and weaken it. When your Overlords die, they can unleash a Death Skill that does things like disable one of Trillion's body parts or extend the time you have to train your next Overlord. The True Ending requires every single Overlord to die fighting Trillion.

    Survival Horror 
  • Dying in Phasmophobia lets you continue playing as a friendly ghost who can clearly see the enemy ghost and hint living players to its location by moving objects like a poltergeist.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the world of The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante, each person is granted three "lesser deaths" before their true death, except under certain circumstances. Accordingly, several events allow Sir Brante to die to accomplish some goal. In one route, even True Death isn't the end, but leads to a final challenge in the afterlife.

Non-video game examples:


    Tabletop Games 
  • The death of your player character in Blades in the Dark is one of the legitimate ways to play the special Ghost playbook, allowing the character to come back as a tormented, incorporeal version of their old selves. Playing as a Ghost, in turn, unlocks two other special playbooks, the Hull and the Vampire.
  • In Dead of Winter, when a character dies, Morale goes down - as the game is lost if Morale ever gets to zero, this is usually bad. However, one character is so useless that if you kill him immediately, the group actually gains morale (though that player now has one less character to control). Also, if one player is the traitor themselves, they can only win the game if the rest of the group loses, so 'accidentally' letting characters die can be a very useful way of achieving that.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In high-level games where Death Is Cheap and players often have relationships with the gods, dying can simply be a useful (and possibly economical) means to reach divine planes and chat with gods and their dead worshipers. Books for high-level games or high-magic settings, like the Mythic Odyssey of Theros even make this explicit.
      "Whatever a character learns during their temporary death, they can carry with them back into the mortal world. Such might make dying one of the most helpful things to happen in a character's greater heroic career."
    • Many Epic Destinies from fourth edition include powers that trigger on death, generally providing an Auto-Revive after some other benefit — a stint in a powerful spiritual or undead form, a Bolt of Divine Retribution for nearby enemies, or simply an Unexplained Recovery a few hours' walk away.
  • Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok: When player characters die in glorious battle their player's next character can take premium traits, with more powerful ones unlocked as the player sends more characters to Valhalla. Eventually they can play their old characters as einherjar in the afterlife.
  • In the Adventure Board Game Folklore: The Afflicted, dead heroes come back as special ghost versions of themselves on the next turn and have a entire set of unique mechanics for interacting with the game and helping their living teammates.
  • New World of Darkness:
  • The One Ring:
    • If an experienced Player Character dies (or retires), the player's next character starts with bonus XP proportional to the old one's, as they're assumed to have been mentored by the deceased. They get extra if the dead character wrote them a Letter of Farewell beforehand.
    • A Barding character with the cultural virtue "Birthright" passes it down to their successor as a bonus, representing their Heroic Lineage.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Priests of the God of the Dead perform Doomings that foretell the circumstances of the recipient's death. If a Player Character receives a Dooming and later dies in a fashion that matches it, the player's next character starts with a hefty XP bonus.


    Web Videos 
  • In Critical Role's first campaign, Matthew Mercer introduces his own homebrewed game mechanics about death into Dungeons & Dragons. When player characters die, sometimes gods and otherworldly entities will appear to them and offer to bring them back to life as part of a deal. Namely, one hero gains Resurrective Immortality from a god (Vax from the Raven Queen), which he exploits to take suicidal risks and bargain with fairies who get off on choking people.