Player death is not a gameplay element. It’s a design failure. I know this is heresy among gamers with fond memories of Rogue and similar games, and for modern gamers who soiled themselves with glee over Dark Souls, but it’s the truth.
This mechanic may work in some puzzle games, such as Limbo, which incorporated character death into a puzzle format and narrative structure that made sense. But that’s an exception. The problem is this: With an adventure, role-playing, or action game, the gamer becomes the character. He identifies with it. He’s developed it. And that’s the point of the game: Take one person, see him through various trials, gather what needs to be gathered (experience, weapons, objects), and then use that accumulated knowledge to win.
Note: This column was featured in the Holiday 2012 issue of the magazine.