Why videogame players never value their lives.

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By ‘lives’, I mean the lives of the avatar’s they are controlling. I was discussing this with some guys when we were all playing Chivalry Medieval Warfare. After getting beheaded a few times I asked everyone why we don’t actually use tactics instead of running in wildly like we were rambo.

In the end we came up with a theory, videogame player’s will never value the lives of their avatars because their avatars are meaningless to them. They don’t care if they die because they won’t actually lose anything in terms of progress, they don’t feel any pain, and there generally isn’t any punishment in the game.

tl:dr: Is there a way to make a player value the lives of their avatar in any game?

 
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Hardcore mode, if you die you need to restart; At least that’s pretty much the only way that I can see, make them value all the work they put into the character and not want to let it die

 
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Yeah – there’s no value in something that you have an infinite supply of.

 
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Associate a penalty with failure. Hardcore mode is the nuclear option, but as long as you make it more costly to die over and over than to take the time to do it right, players will make the effort. In single player games, forcing the playing back to the last save when they die is usually enough: If you die, you lose your time, and the progress you made since the last save. For MMOs, defeat could mean resurrection costs, repair costs, consumables losses, and resource drains. When the cost of failure exceeds the potential reward, players actually try to win more than they lose, it’s basic economics.

 
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This can turn out either extremely good or extremely bad. We’ve all played games that, when you die, make you start back over. I got to witness this first-hand about 8 months ago when my girlfriend (who is not a gamer) picked up Skyrim. She was really into it until a particular quest taking place in a very big cave. She, literally, must have spent about 45-60 minutes in this cave, sneaking around, mugging, killing, looting, harvesting, picking locks, exploring, et. al. Out of nowhere, she suddenly gets blind sided and goes down in seconds. She then gets to restart the cave from the beginning with all of that progress lost. She literally began to cry from frustration at all the time and energy wasted. While games such as Skyrim don’t have lives “proper”, it seems to me that there’s something similar going on because even if she tried to recreate and reattain everything like she had the first time, it still “wouldn’t be the same” because it—technically—wouldn’t be the same character, but rather just another iteration of a character type. In this way, the life can be said to have been lost. Without delving to deep into the Argo analogy, it’s kind of like all of your cells eventually dying (and being replaced in your body). You’re still technically you, but you’re not the old you.

So that’s the mechanic of save points being referenced, but can you imagine trying to complete a game like Final Fantasy 7 without a save function? That would definitely be the nuclear option, and players would value their party’s one life, but how patient would the audience be to stick with that.

I think many of the old SNES games did this very well. Lion King and Aladdin come to mind. The levels were dcently long and very challenging (harder now than when I was a kid, for some reason), and if you messed up you started that level over. It was that balance that Ace_Blue seems to hint at. That being said, though I don’t think anyone would argue lives were much more valuable in those kinds of games, I don’t think that means the avatar was more valuable. If the game doesn’t ask the player to get emotionally invested in the character, the “value” of lives won’t (I think) change that. Aladdin and Simba were simply mechanic devices. A means to end, namely: simply beating the game.

Another genre/series where the value of lives is high would be the tournament mode of any fighter game, Street- or otherwise. Again, the reason it works so well there seems to be balance. It’s progressively challenging so anyone not already a master will eventually reach their ceiling. Once they do (and die), it’s a pain in the ass, but it doesn’t take so long to get back to that point playing through tournament again that the player deems the long-term investment not worth the return.

As a closer, something I don’t recall ever seeing in a game (probably because it could be considered disgusting) is slightly more drawn-out death scenes. Part of why lives are treated so wantonly may be because respawning happens so fast. This is why FPSs have implemented the ability to apply spawn timers to a match: to keep people in check. If you respawn five seconds after dying, the only real downside to dying (other than the points) is that your lost your sniper rifle. That’s not even really a failure. It’s just an inconvenience. Find a way to nullify that lack of a real consequence and you’ll bring some value to those lives.

As for bringing value to the avatar, well—that’s an entirely different topic of discussion.

 
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I really like your Skyrim example, I think it illustrates some of the biggest problems around this topic.

The length of that one cave is the same as an entire SNES / Genesis game, for a start. But within that cave, the progression is almost entirely measured against your character and the weapons you’ve found – its one long level, effectively. On the other hand, an hour spent playing Sonic 1 will have taken your through up to 7 completely different levels, each of which (other than the special zone) has new colors and themes, a different gimmick, new enemies, and a unique boss. There’s no character progression and whiel a Game Over alte in the game is still frustrating, it’s a Game Over whne the end of the entier game was in sight. In the Skyrim example, that’s just one tiny portion of the game that has to be redone. So, I think time investment in comparison to the length of the game is important to consider, as well as what happens to the progression you made in that time.

I’ve played Final Fantasy 7 several times through, and what caused me to stop playing after a Game Over was the same issue – I’d have to repeat 40 minutes of content that I’d already done but had nothing to show for it. The save points were usually well placed to avoid this happening, but it was still possible in places. What I think bothered me the most about it was that I was restarting as if the past 40 mins had never happened – I didn’t get to keep my loot or my levels, the story reset, and the random battles had to be trudged through all over again to get any of it back again. Because the game relies on character progression rather than my own skill level, there’s nothing gained (compared to Sonic, where at least I know the extra hour of practice has improved my skills for next time through). If I’d kept the loot and exp earned before the game over scsreen showed up, a lot of the frustration would be gone, because I’d be replaying the content with more firepower.

At the same time, I valued my party because I knew that if they did get flattened by a boss, I’d have to redo everything I’d done in the last 40 mins or so. If you remove that sense of frustration, there’s much less investment in the game. You don’t need to pay full attention to it, because if you mess up, you can just continue from where you were anyway.

Your Skyrim story also brings up another problem. Your gf isn’t a very skilled gamer, but the game still has to cater to her. Or at least, it needed to, but didn’t. What would her preferred solution have been? An instant restart? An easier level, with enemies that don’t sneak up on you? A mid level checkpoint? An invincible character? The trend at the moment is for games to appeal to the lowest common denominator, ie the unskilled player who wants to go straight through from A to B to Z and be done with the game so they can play something new.

After rambling away in this post for ages, and rewriting it a few times, I’ve come to the conclusion that penalties need to exist, but be proportionate. If you take time, game progression and character progression as three points on a triangle, I think I’m okay with any two being penalized. Less is too little (since you almost always penalize time anyway), more is too many. The aim is to feel like you still got something worthwhile out of the time you spent playing.

 
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Originally posted by FinalStrife7:

She, literally, must have spent about 45-60 minutes in this cave, sneaking around, mugging, killing, looting, harvesting, picking locks, exploring, et. al. Out of nowhere, she suddenly gets blind sided and goes down in seconds. She then gets to restart the cave from the beginning with all of that progress lost. She literally began to cry from frustration at all the time and energy wasted.

Originally posted by saybox:

At the same time, I valued my party because I knew that if they did get flattened by a boss, I’d have to redo everything I’d done in the last 40 mins or so. If you remove that sense of frustration, there’s much less investment in the game. You don’t need to pay full attention to it, because if you mess up, you can just continue from where you were anyway.

Emphasis mine. Clearly the problem here, in both cases, is the lack of a proper save function.* When someone cries over their failings in a video game, don’t try and tell me they’re having fun. At that point, the game has failed utterly to fulfill its premise as an entertainment source.

I suggest you read up about flow and why inducing frustration in players is bad. The right difficulty is when the player barely succeeds. Emphasis on succeeds.

*: I haven’t played Skyrim (I live under a rock. F you too. ^^) but I have a hard time accepting the idea that a modern game such as this one could not have a save function accessible from basically anywhere that isn’t a cutscene. Did she simply forget to save her progress or have games now regressed to the 8-bit consoles level in terms of their features?

 
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“Frustration is the feeling just before you learn something new.”

To aim to create games that never cause frustration to anyone is to aim at the lowest common denominator, the unskilled of beginner gamers, and make a game where they can never fail.

The goal isn’t to create frustration, but it naturally exists where there’s a gap between the player’s current level of ability and the game’s requirements.

Personally I remember getting incredibly frustrated at the first marginally difficult jump in the GameGear version of Sonic 1. There were spikes, and a moving platform to jump on for a ride over them. I’d never played a videogame before. It took me days to get the hang of it. The fact that I had to keep trying it, over and over again, until I could get across the gap safely, may have been frustrating, but it was frustrating because I was still picking up the fine motor skills and timing I needed to make it across.

Remove frustration from games and you get incredibly shallow experiences. Take steps to make sure they always “barely succeed” and you simply teach players to get frustrated more easily, because they’re not used to the possibility that they might not manage something the first time they try it.

 
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You seem intent on teaching players. I only wish to entertain them. As long as our goals differ, how can we agree on the means?

 
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How can you have a challenge that doesn’t require some sort of skillset to overcome it? How can you have those skills if you don’t learn them at some point? Even the basics of moving a character around the screen had to be learnt at some point – remove learning from that situation, and you have a video.

 
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A lot of people here talked about giving player some anti bonuses for death. I will tell about something else. In one of the flash games here, on kongregate you were to control cute teddy bear. When bear died players would got message “Teddy bear got sad” or something like this. Most of the comments told that they really did not want to lose because of this kind of game over message. So, the game made players value the main hero live by making main hero so cute, that no one wanted to hurt him.

 
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Originally posted by Ace_Blue:

[…] I have a hard time accepting the idea that a modern game such as this one could not have a save function accessible from basically anywhere that isn’t a cutscene. Did she simply forget to save her progress or have games now regressed to the 8-bit consoles level in terms of their features?

There are adequate features to allow for it. Outside of cutscenes, the player can save anytime from the menu. I think she just really wasn’t used to thinking along those lines. If it gives you any idea of her experience, the last real game she played (and loved) before Skyrim was Ocarina of Time. Like Oblivion (iirc) Skyrim saves when you go from interiors to exteriors as well as for fast travels and rests and stuff, but there’s no periodic autosave which I think is what she thought was happening. Also, this was at the point where she had really started to become invested in the game and to become good at it, so she was most likely so immersed in the actual thrill and suspense of playing that, even if she’d been fluent with the action of manually saving, she probably would’ve forgotten to do so. It’s happened to me (as well as probably all of us) from time to time. You get caught with your pants down and have to just deal with it.

Originally posted by Ace_Blue:

You seem intent on teaching players. I only wish to entertain them.

Originally posted by saybox:

How can you have a challenge that doesn’t require some sort of skillset to overcome it?

I think the solution is a hybrid of what you both are saying. Personally, the most I’ve ever been frustrated by a game was Guitar Hero 2, which sounds kind of pathetic to admit. It was a matter of me reaching that ceiling I mentioned before. I’d reached the point at which I was not good enough to pass through. I could do it in my mind. My fingers simply didn’t seem to want to cooperate. When I shut it off that night I almost melted my controller wth fire I was so pissed. I didn’t swear it off completely like I said I would, though. I went back to Guitar Hero 1 (God bless it’s crappy little soul) and found I got a lot farther and did a lot better on it than I had when I’d played it back before GH2. Over time I went back to GH2 and found I was able to (easily) progress past that prior point of failure. It was skill-based while still being entertaining. As an aside, GH also has the curious mechanic where, if you fail, the game asks you if you want to retry the song on an easier setting, which allows people to turn off the challenge and simply enjoy—be entertained—by the song.

We can’t forget (assuming we ever knew) how inextricably the pleasure principle is connected to feelings of accomplishment. Winning the Tetris Omegathon at PAX might not, for the winner, be technically deemed an entertaining thing, but it would still be pleasureable because of the feeling of accomplishment. That being said, there are other pleasure principles at work. If I remember correctly what I read, it’s been found, for instance, that for many people the discovery of new information activates the same pleasure centers as alcohol or sex. Why? Because it’s exciting! That’s the principle that works best with me. My favorite parts of Skyrim are reading the books, lurking around the towns, unearthing the conspiracies, building the houses, collecting sets and series, and exploring the wide-opens. The fighting is secondary for me in every respect. Can my ideal game be challenging? Yes, but the challenge will probably extend more from time and patience and attention to detail. That would be a very different game from one where the challenge is to get as high a body count as possible before dying. Different games for different people. It’s no doubt just as impossible to make a game that everyone will enjoy equally as it is to make a movie or book that everyone will enjoy equally. Some people like Chekhov, some people like Twilight.

But so, yes—has the landscape changed dramatically just over the last decade? Of course. Developers are trying to make games appeal to more people. That means FF7 (not casual) becomes FFXIII (way too casual). Wolfenstein 3D (“Where the hell is that damn door?!”) becomes Modern Warfare (which can theoretically be beaten with your eyes closed since all you pretty much have to do is keep walking straight). Sonic on GameGear (don’t fuck up!) becomes Angry Birds (take as many tries as you need). As long as that trend continues, lives will become less and less important.

 
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Here’s a short blog post about flow and fiero, with the added bonus that it also links to Jane McGonigal’s excellent book Reality is Broken.

When I say that I want to entertain players, what I mean is that I want to make them experience fiero. I suspect that when Saybox talks about teaching players, the idea is to teach them something worthwhile, so that they have the tools to overcome the obstacles the game throws at them, so they can achieve new victories and experience fiero.

In that sense, I’m thinking we may be aiming for slightly different goals. I for frequent, lower intensity fiero moments, and he for rarer, but more intense, fiero. And then FinalStrife is probably right that the ideal balance likely lies between the two. The harder the challenge, the more intense the fiero payoff, but the more perseverance the player needs to achieve it. Does our culture really favor immediate gratification more than it did in the past? I have heard it said, but I do not know if it is objectively true. I am not a sociologist.

If you gave players the tools to tune difficulty so that they can self-dose their fiero fix, how would they set it? That’s probably a very complex question to answer, since the extremes (frustration and boredom) are obvious sub-optimal choices.

 
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I almost cried in Unreal because I didn’t realize that on the pause menu there was a save game button.

 
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God damn it guys. You’re really making me want to knuckle down and finish Impossible Dungeon.

The point of the game was to be difficult by not being difficult. Essentially, you could complete the game easily, but you wouldn’t win. Winning could only be accomplished by figuring out obscure (and often unexplained, obtuse, or simply hidden) puzzles. Several puzzles would happen “by accident” because the trigger conditions were things like “stand still” or “kill all the monsters on the level.” Others were very obscure or even situational, like “do not pick up the puzzle reward from level 9” (which only came up on a level past level 9, and wouldn’t trigger if the level 9 puzzle wasn’t solved!).

Some of the rewards were detrimental, too.

 
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Originally posted by Ace_Blue:

Here’s a short blog post about flow and fiero, with the added bonus that it also links to Jane McGonigal’s excellent book Reality is Broken.

That’s actually a great link. Thanks.

The harder the challenge, the more intense the fiero payoff, but the more perseverance the player needs to achieve it. Does our culture really favor immediate gratification more than it did in the past? I have heard it said, but I do not know if it is objectively true. I am not a sociologist.

Well, everything on a scale. The trouble with the introduction of more and more gamers, especially people who, 10-20 years ago would not have been gamers, is that it’s expanded the spectrum, but I don’t think that necessarily means everyone now prefers casual games, which is what many seem to believe. Anyone who’s played table-top games knows how long they can take. Video games can transform the same events from hours into minutes, yet table-tops are still going strong. So, in a way, while there may proportionally be fewer serious gamers overall, that doesn’t necessarily equate to quantitatively fewer. But yeah, the argument is: where does any given game fall on the spectrum?

You’re right that it’s hard to know whether our culture favors immediate gratification more than it has in the past, but it’s certainly easier to get it. Playing a game used to mean going home, fiddling with the cartridge for fifteen minutes before yelling for your dad to fix it, and then playing Rampage (on NES) for hours because there was no save function and if you wanted to beat all 50 states you had to do it in one go. There will no doubt always be a market for those kind of games, but the ability to whip out your phone in line at the store and play less than a minute of Fruit Ninja has definitely altered things permanently.

If you gave players the tools to tune difficulty so that they can self-dose their fiero fix, how would they set it? That’s probably a very complex question to answer, since the extremes (frustration and boredom) are obvious sub-optimal choices.

In arcade days this was just, based on my surface analysis, done primarily through progressive difficulty. Whether Galaga or Street Fighter, the computer made it harder. For the player to make it harder, the goals have had to change, it seems. One of the best examples that comes to mind for me is the Guitar Hero/Rock Band games. Up to four people can “play,” all with their own prescribed difficulties. On top of that, the games now not only allow you change the difficulty after you fail the song, but in the middle of the song as well.

The other method (and this isn’t completely unrelated to GH/RB) is score multipliers. I can’t think of any off-hand, but I’ve seen games that allow the player to increase the difficulty of levels in a variety of ways. The trade-off: the harder the add-on, the greater the score multiplier.

I think it’s interesting (and none too coincidental) that both of these systems rely upon an increasing score to measure success. You can make it easier on yourself in those games, but the only way to get the massive scores is to push yourself. This allows for a selective difficulty wherein people can adjust it depending on their mood or ability.

I may just be reading too much beneath the line, but I think I detected a hint of “How do we apply this to other genres?” in there as well. I personally don’t have a clue. Something else that must be remembered is that consumers can’t really make the game easier without cheating; however, if the game is good enough then fans will find ways to make it harder. Speedruns come to mind. A video of some nut playing through FFXII with a party of one—and only one—character comes to mind as well. Perhaps the crème de la crème of this example might be portal. In each of these examples, the game itself is good enough to stand alone, and then players have taken it to the next level all on their own utilizing the in-game tools that the developers have given.

Originally posted by Draco18s:

God damn it guys. You’re really making me want to knuckle down and finish Impossible Dungeon.

The point of the game was to be difficult by not being difficult. Essentially, you could complete the game easily, but you wouldn’t win. Winning could only be accomplished by figuring out obscure (and often unexplained, obtuse, or simply hidden) puzzles. Several puzzles would happen “by accident” because the trigger conditions were things like “stand still” or “kill all the monsters on the level.” Others were very obscure or even situational, like “do not pick up the puzzle reward from level 9” (which only came up on a level past level 9, and wouldn’t trigger if the level 9 puzzle wasn’t solved!).

Some of the rewards were detrimental, too.

I like the idea; however, the danger here is in making a game that’s arbitrary (or at least seems to be so.) If things almost always seem to happen for no apparent reason and only the most ardent of cause-and-effect junkies could figure out why, I wouldn’t consider that a good thing. Perhaps if they’re all tied in together somehow? Or in sets of themes or motifs? A bestiary of killed creatures is an example of that, though I know it’s probably not half as abstract as you’d like. But yeah, there’s a fine line between “intricate” and “wtf”. :/ That’s your danger.

 
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Best way to design a game with experience and/or character skills. As the character gets better things get easier, then if the player is killed they can start from the last checkpoint, but do so with a new character, with no XP or skill progression… plus take away any goodies they may have had.

Then people would play more carefully, I mean tactically.

 
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If ANY of you have EVER played Maplestory, this thread would lose some of its meaning. . . .
You would understand. . .
If you haven’t (I doubt any of you have), at a high level in the game, it takes about 100 hours in total to level up.
If you die (dying in that game is really easy—it can happen in a matter of seconds), you lose 10% of your exp.

 
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So, to summarize, this is the extent of the proposed mechanics to make the player care:

- Do or Die: Whenever the character dies, the game is rolled back to the beginning of the current portion, be it a level, or a portion of a level, or the last saved game. Everything is reset to the way it was before the failure, so the player must retry in the exact same conditions. Failure to overcome the challenge results in the player being unable to proceed with the game. (Free save systems, some platformers such as Moneyseize or VVVVVV.)

- Harsh penalty: If the character dies, the player loses a substantial portion of their invested time and effort. (Checkpoint systems, Maple Story.)

- Permadeath: Death is irreversible, the player must restart the game from the beginning with a new character. (Arcade games, Realm of the Mad God, most roguelikes, the ‘hardcore’ option in a number of games.)

- Permafail: Not only is death irreversible, but upon character death the player is placed in a potentially unwinnable situation, making them restart the game from the position their former character died but with a brand-new character which is potentially totally inadequate for the challenges of the game at that point. (JupitersKing idea.)

- Guilt Trip: When the character dies, the player is delivered a message intended to make them feel remorse and guilt about their failure. (a3lex33’s “Teddy bear got sad” game.)

Unless I missed one (let me know!) that’s the extent of it. That’s… not much. Plus it’s all stick, no carrot. Let me propose another.

- Customization: The player is offered the option to name their character at the beginning of the game, and to choose its appearance. By customizing their avatar, they develop a relationship with it, and become emotionally attached to it.

 
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it takes about 100 hours in total to level up.

And this is why you should never play MapleStory past level 30 ;P


How about these:

Crippling terror:

Keeping track of deaths:

Destruction of hardware:

Destruction of user:

 
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Originally posted by DannyDaNinja:

By ‘lives’, I mean the lives of the avatar’s they are controlling. I was discussing this with some guys when we were all playing Chivalry Medieval Warfare. After getting beheaded a few times I asked everyone why we don’t actually use tactics instead of running in wildly like we were rambo.

In the end we came up with a theory, videogame player’s will never value the lives of their avatars because their avatars are meaningless to them. They don’t care if they die because they won’t actually lose anything in terms of progress, they don’t feel any pain, and there generally isn’t any punishment in the game.

tl:dr: Is there a way to make a player value the lives of their avatar in any game?

Permadeath.

 
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Originally posted by truefire:

Destruction of user:

Yup, I approve of this method.

No but seriously, the death counter is a great idea. Even better is if you tie it into a scoring system (so that lower is better) or have the number of deaths count against their final score somehow. Just don’t be tempted to make an achievement for dying X number of times. And make sure the player knows up front that dying goes against their score.

Back in my old legend of zelda 1 days, that magical death counter underneath each saved game was enough to make me try harder than you can even imagine to avoid dying. Better than any start-over, guilt trip game over screen, or anything like that.

 
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Keeping track of deaths only goes so far before the player stops caring. If it is a point of personal pride to keep your file at 0 death, you’ll try hard not to die as long as you haven’t died. But when you die once, that’s gone. So what do you do? Restart from scratch (ugh) or lower your goals? So now you’re trying to finish the game with only one death. Oh, crap, spikes. Only two deaths then. Oh well, make that less than five. ten. twenty. A hundred.

Screw it, I just want to finish the stupid game. See also: Moneyseize.

 
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IMHO one of the best ways to make a player value their in-game lives is to mix a punishment and psychology together- ex:
- When you die, you lose 25% money and you are stuck in an in-game jail for five minutes, where players can throw tomatoes at you. In order to avoid afking, you will be faced with a simple math problem every minute (5+3=?). (this works best in an mmo)

Also, you might want to change the thread name- it makes the impression that all gamers are suicidal. XD

 
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Originally posted by RTL_Shadow:


- When you die, you lose 25% money and you are stuck in an in-game jail for five minutes, where players can throw tomatoes at you. In order to avoid afking, you will be faced with a simple math problem every minute (5+3=?). (this works best in an mmo)

That sounds simply terrible.