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Perma-Permadeath – A Fitting Farewell to Games

Permadeath is for sissies

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Raising the stakes and creating a new and more cautious form of gameplay, it’s easy to see why the permadeath run is gaining traction among the hardcore and, like a crack addict looking for a new kind of high,Chris Livingston’s perma-permadeath DayZ run is upping the ante yet again.

For those who don’t know, permadeath is a way to play games with an added restriction: If your avatar dies, in combat or otherwise, then that’s all she wrote. No respawning and no reverting to a previous save.

Implementation varies. Occasionally permadeath is a mandatory software feature, while in other games it’s an optional setting or game mode. In many more mainstream titles, it’s a self inflicted restriction relying on nothing more than a players commitment to deleting their cherished save game. But, regardless of the methodology, the outcome is always the same: A greater sense of peril, a more cautious play style and a thrilling new experience for the uninitiated.

Enter perma-permadeath. A method of playing, trialed by Chris Livingston and written about here, in which death doesn’t just require that you stop playing a character upon death, but that you stop playing the game completely. DayZ, an MMO zombie survival simulator and favorite of Livingston’s, became the initial test subject and the resulting experience was interesting to say the least. To me, the experiment seemed borderline insane.

Why on earth would you want to place your future enjoyment of a game – particularly one on which you’ve spent your hard earned cash – in peril? DayZ isn’t even a finished game, and yet Livingston may never get to see the finished product for the sake of an admittedly engrossing two thousand or so words.

Okay, so it wasn’t as if Livingston planned to play like this forever. The goals he set out for himself were tough but not impossible or even that time consuming. As Kotaku pointed out, writing about DayZ is part of how he makes his living. The risk was not insignificant.

I began to wonder: If It’s truly so appalling a risk to place hours of potential video game enjoyment in jeopardy, then under what circumstances wouldn’t I mind playing a game with perma-permadeath?

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My love affair with Fallout: New Vegas started in 2011. I missed the game’s initial launch, but a year after it first arrived on shelves – and being an impoverished student – I was looking for something that would provide plenty of hours of enjoyment, some decent story notes, and that was playable on my housemates Playstation 3. It was my first trip to the wasteland, mojave or otherwise, but even after playing the rest of the games in the series, something about the wide open spaces, the wild west/1930s aesthetic, and the games general yellowy hue, keeps me coming back to Obsidian’s wasteland.

My first playthrough ended prematurely as my housemate and I parted ways and due to some rushed separation proceedings he ended up with the console he paid money for. Since then, I’ve bought the game on every format and breezed through every mode and DLC I could.

Enough is enough and although I’ve fulfilled my yearly quota as the courier – my compulsion with the game has diminished to an annual playthrough. I’m already planning my final journey across the mojave wastes and my final perma-permadeath playthrough.

With hard difficulty enabled and survival mode on, the most challenging thing about my final playthrough will be my restriction to a single save file. Despite my commitment to the game, it’s very rare that I won’t immediately revert to an earlier save should a V.A.T.S encounter not go my way, or a deathclaw sneak up behind me. I’ve yet to even try the game adhering to regular old permadeath rules let alone this more brutal of gameplay methods.

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Honestly, my reluctance to start a permadeath run prior to this one doesn’t come from a fear of losing the hours of work I’ve put in. It comes from the fact that I won’t feel that sense of completion until I’ve played the game over and over again, only stopping once I’ve defeated Legate Lanius without my character ever experiencing death’s icy grasp. I’m sure that the final victory would (sadly) be the most gratifying experience of my life so far but, at present, I don’t have nearly enough time, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

There’s no denying that committing oneself to completely severing ties with a game that you know deep down you shouldn’t still be playing diminishes some of Livingston’s vision. Where’s the panic, if you don’t really want to play the game anyway? However, to say that I don’t want to play the game anymore is an oversimplification. I’m conflicted, but with any luck my final playthrough should also offer some sorely needed closure.

By creating one final courier who represents my absolute favorite ways to play, I can take her death as the final chapter in my Fallout: New Vegas story. The last hole-headed survivor. The last time into the breach.

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If she takes her final breath defending a stranger at a gas station, then so be it. If she goes down as the final guardian of the mutants in Jacobstown, then she’s gone down swinging. If she somehow makes it to the battle for the dam and keels over at the hands of Legion, I can’t think of a better way to go. If on the other hand she goes down after slipping into a pit of deathclaws, just minutes after leaving the game’s first town and is unable to escape due to being completely over encumbered with leather armor well, she never was that lucky was she?

The thought of a final death to the protagonist, an option that so few games provide by themselves, has made me excited to dust off the game case one more time. I can’t wait to see where I end up, and if I end up making it all the way to the end, I can make a clean break as the hero of the wasteland, like a smoker having one last cigarette before he quits.

So thank you Chris Livingston, for giving me two things to look forward to: My exciting final playthrough of one of my favorite games, and reading your name in the paper under the headline “Game Journalist Jumps Out of 7th Floor Apartment after attempting Perma-Perma-Permadeath.”

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