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The number of chances players has before game instances are terminated.

Many games include dangers that can "kill" the game elements controlled by players. Lives is a design feature in games where such a "death" does not automatically result in their game sessions ending and instead players are allowed to play until one has run out of these Lives.


The original arcade version of Pac-Man gave players a single extra life at 10,000 points but other implementations give this at numerous occasions. In Asteroids, the player initially has three Lives which are lost either when the player's ship is shot by a UFO or when the ship collides with an asteroid. When all Lives have been lost, the game session ends.

Counter-Strike can be regarded as a multiplayer First-Person Shooter that makes explicit use of Lives. Here, players' avatars do not respawn when killed, instead forcing players to observe the rest of a match as spectators. Battlefield series allow players to spawn again as long as their teams have "tickets" left, making teams share the amount of Lives available (although these amount also decreases if enemy teams have control over goal locations).

Platform games such as the Super Mario series and The Legend of Zelda series can be said to be weak examples of games making use of Lives. This since the only consequence of losing all Lives is that players have to restart from the latest saved location.

Using the pattern

The loss of Lives is a Life Penalty that can have additional effects since losing all Lives can end game sessions. In addition, what caused the lose of individual Lives also can trigger other Death Consequences so games using Lives can consider the use of that pattern as well.

The prime characteristic of Lives is that they can be lost, so deciding how this can happen is the primary design consideration when using the pattern. However, what the consequences of losing Lives are, and how many Lives are available is also important. Lives are typically associated with Avatars and Characters, but games using Units or even Destructible Objects can use Lives through the use of Parallel Lives. They are typically not used together with Enemies but are sometimes used together with Boss Monsters. Games with Vehicles do quite often link the Lives of Avatars with the entered Vehicles; Lives are lost if the Vehicles are destroyed.

Losses of Lives are typically the effects of failing to Evade attacks by Enemies or other players in Combat, being the target of deadly Traps or Environmental Effects (possible after failing to Evade them), colliding with object due to failing with Maneuvering, or failing to replenish Resources within Time Limits. Typically, only one Life is at stake at a time, but games using Parallel Lives are an exception. The loss of Lives can be instantaneous when one is affected or can be the effect of cumulative Damage to a Health value; the former being a way Damage can directly cause Life Penalties while the latter being the consequence of Energy Penalties.

The number of Lives players have are Resources and these are either Non-Renewable Resources that can only be lost as gameplay progresses or Renewable Resources that can be regained through various means (some Puzzle Games have Lives as Regenerating Resources). Some game modes in the Battlefield series allow players to spawn again as long as their teams have "tickets" left, making the numbers of Lives a Shared Resource. Examples of ways Lives are replenished include reaching certain Scores (found for example in Asteroids and Pac-Man) and collecting Pick-Ups but as Resources they can be part of most types of Rewards. They can also be provided through Pay to Play (as Arcade Games and physical Pinball Games are examples of).

Last Man Standing goals in Multiplayer Games are closely related to the use of Lives.

Interface Aspects

The amount of Lives available are typically presented continuously through Game State Indicators, e.g. HUD Interfaces, since they are typically a central aspect of how well gameplay in evolving in game sessions.


Lives are almost always part of Abstract Player Constructs. Lives are a form of (Non-Localized) Resources that allow players to have Extra Chances and be able to participate in games as long as players have at least one life left. This means that games with Lives must also make use of Player Elimination and Game Over since otherwise the loss of the last Life would not differ from any other loss of Lives. While other Penalties may be attached to losing Lives, the loss itself may be a Penalty since it reduces the number of chance left and the probable gameplay time players have left. The presence of Lives give players clear Continuous Goals: to Survive in environments that may include Enemies, Traps, and other players trying to succeed with Player Killing or Player Elimination - it also modulates Player Killing since it gives definite advantages of removing all of a player's Lives.

As Lives are typically linked to Avatars or Characters, they are a way to link players' successes and failures in the game to those of their Avatars or Characters. If players have developed emotional links to them, the risk of losing Lives is thereby a way of increasing their Emotional Engrossment. Regardless of this, the presence of Lives can increase Tension, as players have something easy to relate to that can be lost in the game. For all cases except Parallel Lives, the use of Lives implies that Spawning will be present in a game design (even if this would be that a dead Avatar or Character would rise in exactly the same place it died).

The use of the pattern implies that players have at least more than one Life. This makes the pattern incompatible with Permadeath. As multiple Lives do not exist in reality, the use of them in games can break Thematic Consistency, not only by players having several lives but also through the process of Spawning. Diegetic Consistency can also suffer from the use of Lives since these are so important to gameplay that they are typically always displayed in players' interfaces. When used with Regenerating Resources, Lives create a form of Tick-Based Game.


Can Instantiate

Abstract Player Constructs, Continuous Goals, Emotional Engrossment, Extra Chances, Game Over, Non-Localized Resources, Player Elimination, Resources, Spawning, Survive, Tension

with Damage

Life Penalties

with Multiplayer Games

Last Man Standing

with Regenerating Resources

Tick-Based Games

Can Modulate

Avatars, Boss Monsters, Characters, Combat, Destructible Objects, Player Killing

Can Be Instantiated By


Can Be Modulated By

Damage, Energy Penalties, Environmental Effects, Game State Indicators, Health, HUD Interfaces, Life Penalties, Non-Renewable Resources, Parallel Lives, Pay to Play, Pick-Ups, Regenerating Resources, Renewable Resources, Scores, Shared Resources, Traps, Vehicles

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Diegetic Consistency, Permadeath, Thematic Consistency


An updated version of the pattern Lives that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.