Authored by: Karin Wenz

The Routledge Companion to Video Game Studies

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415533324
eBook ISBN: 9780203114261
Adobe ISBN: 9781136290510


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Video games simulate real-life experiences in many respects even though the environments in which we play are often based in a fantasy world, a science fiction world, or in historical settings. Games can be used as a laboratory for experiences, some we will never encounter in real life, and some we have to face in the future. As death is an experience we cannot speak about after we have faced it, it is a concept that is very difficult to grasp. Fingarette (1996, pp. 1–5) describes death as an empty concept that has no meaning in itself but needs to be interpreted by its rituals, symbols, and contexts in which it is embedded to make it meaningful. He describes death and its rituals and contexts as a building on which many perspectives are possible: “There are as many correct perceptions of that building as there are perspectives from which to view it” (p. 85). Death itself seems to be at the center of this building, hidden from the outside. Those of us who grew up in a Western culture, and have not experienced war, have rarely been present at the moment of death of a close friend, family member, or even a beloved pet. Dying is something that happens behind closed doors, often in special institutions but rarely in one’s own bedroom or living room with family members all around one. At the same time, while this experience is being hidden from our everyday life, death and the fascination with it can be observed in digital media, such as the coffin cam online on the See Me Rot website, which claimed to have installed a camera in a coffin, filming the decomposition of a dead body and sending the data out to everyone interested watching it via the Internet; or the Facebook application If I die, which claims to offer a way to send comments and post on your friends’ Facebook walls long after your death. Both the coffin cam and the If I die application are discussed online to be hoaxes. Whether the coffin cam did exist and film a real body, or the If I die application is really in development, is less relevant for this essay than the fact that they are representations of new ways of approaching death. Another example is the iDeath calculator available via iTunes calculating the user’s predicted date of death. Avatar-based video games do not only let us watch dying and death but we actively are involved in the death of our own avatar or those of others. This opened a never-ending debate in the media based on the visual aesthetics of death and killing in games. This debate clearly shows that before even asking about the function of death in video games, a moral statement and judgment is sometimes made without an understanding of the complexity of this topic.

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