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Permanent avatar or character deaths.

The avatars and characters that players control in games are often at risk of dying. While this makes gameplay risky, many games soften this by letting players have many lives or letting them start at a previous location if they die. A few other games instead have Permadeath. In these, the death of one's avatar or character ends the game sessions.

Wikipedia has a entry on Permanent Death in games[1].

Note: World of Warcraft uses the concept of Permadeath for other purposes ("roleplayed deaths" and removals of characters from servers). These connotations are not included in this pattern but see the entry[2] on the WoWWiki for more information about this alternative use.


Some Tabletop Roleplaying Games do let player cheat death by reincarnation spells, memory backups, and other devices but these may not be available for players with inexperienced characters. For others, e.g. Call of Cthulhu and Hârnmaster, death is irrevocable because either they try to simulate reality closer or they focus on the frailty of humans.

The text-based adventure games NetHack and Rogue uses Permadeath so making single mistakes can lead to game sessions ending and this feature is a central aspect of this type of games. Permadeath is considerably rarer in other type of computer-based games; there is a version of BatMUD where death is permanent and Diablo II has an option for "hardcore" gameplay that includes Permadeath. Player can restart from earlier positions in the Fallout series but selecting hardcore modes in Fallout: New Vegas means that the deaths of companions are Permadeaths.

Counter-Strike can be said to have Permadeath since players' avatars do not respawn after being killed. This does not hinder them from playing for long however, since matches usually are pretty short and all players spawn when new matches begin.

Using the pattern

While Death Consequences exist in many games that include Conflicts or Combat, Permadeath for players' Focus Loci are more uncommon since it not only creates Player Elimination but also increased the possibility of Early Elimination (see Klastrup[3] for a discussion on the role of deaths in games).

A primary concern when designing Death Consequences is how well it functions with the potential Predetermined Story Structures that exist, and this of course varies with whom it is that dies. For example, Units typically have Permadeath and this is likely to be non-problematic since Units often can be replaced and have no or little individuality compared to other Units. Likewise, Non-Player Characters (but not Companions) often have Permadeath if they can be killed at all; if this is possible depends on the types of activities permitted by the game this also depends on how vital the NPCs are to Predetermined Story Structures. This means that the pattern has most relevance for Avatars and Characters that are Player Characters.

While some games have Permadeath as an integral part to create Challenging Gameplay, it can also be used as an option to support varying Difficulty Levels. Examples of games using the pattern in this fashion include Diablo II and Fallout: New Vegas (for Companions in the latter case).

The actual implementation of Permadeath is trivial; it is in principle avoiding the use of the pattern Lives. There are however some more subtle decisions. Extra Chances can be combined with Permadeath, as done for example in the roleplaying game Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. This combination lets players have less risk of actually experiencing Permadeath but still preserve the consequences of the pattern. Supporting the saving of game state whenever player wants ruins the effect of Permadeath due to the ability of performing Save-Load Cycles (or Save Scumming) this gives them. Save Points have a lesser version of this effect in that gameplay can be continued from a previous game state but can, depending on their placements and scarcity, still make gameplay challenging.

Interface Aspects

In Multiplayer Games, Permadeath leads not only to Player Elimination but also to Downtime unless the player leaves the activity completely. Letting these "dead" players be Spectators of the continued gameplay is one way of encouraging their continued presences - typically to be participants in the next instance of the game.


The Permadeaths of Avatars and Characters are Death Consequences that are Irreversible Events and lead to Player Elimination and Game Over. As such they are clear Closure Points for players. Games with the pattern have more Challenging Gameplay for this reason and often also encourage Replayability since players tend to distribute the total time players spend on the games over more game sessions. They also lead to Downtime in Multiplayer Games. The exception when they do not lead to Player Elimination is when they are used together with Save Points.

Permadeath can both encourage and discourage Player Killing. Encourage due to succeeding with this is an Irreversible Event and the benefits likewise irreversible; Discourage due to the common social experience of playing a game is damaged by Player Elimination.

Due to their definitions, Permadeath and Lives are not compatible. Permadeath becomes meaningless in games that allow Save-Load Cycles (although well-placed Save Points can preserve the Challenging Gameplay effect). Having harsh effects on player mistakes, Permadeath does not support Smooth Learning Curves well.


Can Instantiate

Challenging Gameplay, Closure Points, Death Consequences, Early Elimination, Game Over, Irreversible Events, Player Elimination, Replayability, Spectators

with Multiplayer Games


Can Modulate

Avatars, Characters, Multiplayer Games, Player Characters, Player Killing, Predetermined Story Structures

Can Be Instantiated By

Difficulty Levels

Can Be Modulated By

Extra Chances, Save Points

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Lives, Save Scumming, Save-Load Cycles, Smooth Learning Curves


New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. Wikipedia entry for Permanent Death in games.
  2. Entry for Permadeath on the World of Warcraft Wiki.
  3. Klastrup, L. (2007). Why Death Matters: Understanding Gameworld Experience. The Journal of Virtual Reality and Broadcasting, Vol. 4, 2007.