Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
The Motivations of Death

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 11 Sep 2012 12:00
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Motivation is an important part of characterization. There's nothing duller than an entirely reactionary character who never acts out of their own decisions, only blind loyalty or automatic response to a perceived slight. With that in mind, what was Death's motivation for Darksiders 2 again? Help out War who was accused of wiping out humanity without authorization? Okay. Has War's innocence been confirmed to Death's satisfaction? How does Death know War couldn't possibly just go nutbutters one day? I mean, he's called War, he'd probably get pretty antsy if he didn't fight things now and then. Or was Death just acting out of blind loyalty to his fellow Horseman? Probably that last one, it being the most boring possibility.

Another lingering question for me is who the fuck I spent that entire game playing, exactly. Was I actually the embodiment of the concept of death? Doesn't seem like it, since I could only kill people by hitting them with sharp things rather than by merely wanting it to happen, and any asshole can do that. Indeed, in this setting, every asshole. Also, there were no Meet Joe Black-style immortality shenanigans from Death blowing off his duties to do his mates favors. But if I'm just some guy who happens to be called Death, then what the fuck is my job? My assigned role in this grand cosmic scheme? "Horseman of the Apocalypse" is the job title, but the apocalypse already happened and Death didn't even do anything.

Maybe he wasn't supposed to be the embodiment of all death, just the death of human beings. In which case, I guess I can see why he'd suddenly have a lot of free time at the start of Darksiders 2, since they're all dead already. And maybe that's why he was so cross, 'cos he'd just gotten back from ferrying 7 billion complaining douchebags to the afterlife. Okay, I guess that explains everything. One last question: why the fuck should I care? You might say I should care because I'm a human and would have a vested interest in the human race being resurrected, but if this is the kind of setting where the human race can be wiped out one day and brought back the next merely by moving the right all-powerful magical bullshit peg into the right all-powerful magical bullshit hole, then I'm not entirely sure it's worth the effort. The end of humanity is not a card you can play every bloody game, it loses its value faster than the Zimbabwean dollar.

Perhaps this just proves that Death, despite being a morally neutral feature of existence, works better as a recurring Castlevania boss than a protagonist. But it leaves me wondering. What if I had to design a game in which the main character literally was the Grim Reaper? And if I had to make that fact relevant to the game mechanics without falling back on generic killing things? And also do it in a way that players could actually care about? Thought experiments are fun!

(Here I hasten to ask that we don't bring up Grim Fandango, because I'm talking about organic game mechanics rather than linear storytelling, and besides, Manuel Calavera wasn't the Grim Reaper, he was one of many representatives of the reaping industry, so there.)

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