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April 15, 2013

Players give ‘life’ to their characters with traits that are usually extensions of themselves in some way.  Even while playing games such as Dungeon Crawl Classics or Traveler which uses a prolific amount of random character generation tables, players cannot help give personalities to their characters.  Other games, such as Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, use a more detailed character generation system that allows more customization in which players put much more of themselves into their characters.  This results in players becoming attached to their characters and factors such as naming their character, customizing options and achieving higher levels contribute more to this attachment.  But we all know what inevitably comes to any character – death.

I used the widely-known Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 5 Step Model, also known under the acronym DABDA, as a basis to help explain player behavior when character death occurs.  Although Kubler-Ross initially applied these principles to those suffering from terminal illnesses, we can easily modify the principles for this article.  It is wise to remember that some players will not experience every step and if they do, it may be only briefly (as in seconds; think of any console game where you re-spawn).

1.       Denial – “Wait, what just happened?  No way!” 

In this first stage, players may deny that their character even died.  As a defense mechanism, some distance themselves from other players around them by becoming extremely quiet or sulking. 

2.       Anger – “That’s not fair!  That’s bull!” 

This stage usually manifests as a brooding anger instead of as an outburst.  Sometimes you may witness a player outburst, but that is usually not in a public setting such as a convention or at your local game store.

3.       Bargaining – “What if I do this, will that save him?”

Players hope to delay, postpone or reverse their characters’ deaths by reviewing what happened to get them killed.  Negotiations with the higher powers (game masters, judges and sometimes deities) are conducted thoroughly and this is usually where the resident ‘rules lawyer’ shines.

4.       Depression – “I sure do miss Rangaar, but who cares?”

At this stage, players actually grieve for their character.  They tend to reminisce about achievements, comedic exploits and general good feelings that this particular character gave to that game world.  Players usually do not dwell too long at this stage as they usually move quickly to the last stage.

5.       Acceptance – “I’m dead.  Can I roll up another character?”

In the last stage, players finally accept the loss of their character and move on.  They either need to re-spawn, get raised or roll up another character because ‘life’ goes on.

  1. April 16, 2013 at 7:29 am

    What amazes me is the variety of reactions you see to PC death. You never really know somebody until you’ve killed one of their characters.

  2. April 25, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    You know you did a good job if they hide tears every time the character is mentioned. ;D

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