How much can players take?

Simply put, how much grief do you think is acceptable to put players through?
If you were to, say, introduce a character early on, allow them to form a wonderful friendship over the course of the game, maybe even a romance, and overall just get players really attached to these people; would it be acceptable to suddenly kill this character off or have them befall a similar horrible fate from which they will never recover? Or would that make the story just completely unplayable, even if everything else is fine?

Of course, that’s just an example. Maybe that doesn’t apply to you. But I think the main question gets across; just how mean can you be without being too mean and ruining the game?

I’m interested in opinions from both sides. Both developers and players.


I’d say ask yourself why a player plays a game.

Lots of people use these games as a form of escapism, so… you might easily run danger affecting someone negatively IRL if you do something like that for shock value or similar, without a warning.


If the event contradicts the purpose of consumption, then it’s probably wrong. Otherwise…


  • If I play to have fun, and am not having fun, it’s probably wrong.
  • If I read for the literary aspects of the piece, and the reason for the event added to the literary nature of the work, then it’s probably right.

As long as it is something that can be avoided and it isn’t something that 100% happens then I can’t see a problem with it.

After all this is interactive fiction; UnNatural has moments the player can lose teammates even has a scene where the player can be saved by their love interest who sacrifices themselves to protect them. It’s a dark moment but it can be avoided.


As long as it is logical and not a cheap trick, I’m fine with a grimdark scene.
You see, I’ve grown a thick hide to stuff like this :triumph:


I would say to take a look at the Mass Effect Trilogy for some indicators on that.

I think things like that can be enjoyable in a weird sort of way that I can’t explain. But for example in the dawn of the dead remake where that awesome guy(you know the one) gets bit at the end off screen, that’s one of the best bits of the film for me, though I really can’t explain why :stuck_out_tongue: .

But also it can be used as a good way to build the mc, though I guess that’d be more relevant to interactive novels or games closer to interactive novels as that would feel like control/decisions are being taken away from the mc.

But finally I think it could be good in cases where it is avoidable as it can add the sense of real consequence. Though if done in this way I think a series of bad choices leading up to the punishing event, rather than a single choice would be good. It would also add replayability, as someone might want to replay to get the “best” route and/or ending.

1 Like

If they know what they’re getting into, sure. I like being made miserable by a game/story, but I imagine it could annoy people who weren’t expecting it, especially if the game features romantic options.

If sudden/arbitrary cruelty hits me hard in something I (usually) won’t be upset at the work, since if it’s affected me it means the writer has made me connect. Worst result isn’t that I’m so stunned I become upset and frustrated, it’s that I don’t care and the twist just comes across as a desperate attempt to ‘shock’. Can feel juvenile and pull me out of it entirely.


I think it depends on what kind of game you’re writing. I think a darker game would get away with more character death than a light-hearted game, for example. This sounds really obvious but if the game doesn’t make the stakes clear early on, the death will jar the players, maybe too much.

Players grow very attached to characters, especially love interests, especially in interactive fiction. Killing or otherwise traumatizing one, especially one that the player forms a bond with, for shock value would probably make more than a few players quit in the middle of the game. However, it’s not that it can’t be done, but rather that authors have to be a bit more careful.

If the death isn’t for shock value or a source of schadenfreude on the part of the author, the player needs to know what’s at stake early on. They need to be warned in some small way that the game could result in that, or at the very least that the story contains dark themes. I’d also suggest giving them a way out of it, but this isn’t as important for me as giving indications.


Oh I can take the most horrible things . I mean I’ll feel bad for a long time but I only rage quit if I’m forced into a relationship I don’t want in a gender locked male game like Lords of Aswick. Where I specifically avoided sex and relationships all ten times the game gives me the opportunity before forcing a marriage and consummation on me. That’s when “I said fuck you I don’t have to play you.”


As I mentioned in another thread (here, if you want to read it), one of the ways I find it easiest to immerse myself in games is through the characters. In CS-style games, especially, it’s far easier for me to get invested in the other characters than it is for me to get invested in my own character. Or, more specifically, it’s my character’s relationships with the other characters that get me invested. I’m certainly interested in a good plot, but I need characters I actually like, and who I want to see alive at the end of that plot, otherwise I have no reason to keep reading. (And especially if there’s a romantic element to that relationship… :smirk:)

That’s as a player. As a writer, I am completely aware that sometimes a character’s got to die. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: But I guess you have to ask yourself why you want that character to die? Is it because it’ll make the story better, or is it to shock the players/readers? Because if it’s only the latter, I certainly wouldn’t advise it. (I mean, most of the time it’ll be both, but even then, you should make sure that the story takes precedence.) Also, if the character is a potential romance, I would very much advise you not to, or at least to allow the player to save the RO. For example: Sammy’s death in TF makes the game far more interesting, in my opinion, and Ryu’s is practically mandated by the plot, but I was never going to force those on players who wanted to romance them, because I want my players to play a game they enjoy playing, even if the plot itself suffers as a result.


I think it ultimately depends how much this grief has to do with the overall plot. I can handle angst and heartbreak if it’s for the sake of the story, but not for the sake of explicitly trying to add angst or because you don’t know what else to do with the character.

The treatment of Solas vs Thane in Dragon Age and Mass Effect are good examples to look at for forcing the player to experience grief. Both popular romances that you get sufficient warnings are not going to end well–admittedly, Solas’s warnings are more subtle, but whatever. Solas’s romance, because it served the overall plot and will continue to serve the story, was an appropriate form of grief to inflict on the player. Thane’s death, however, was not, because it wasn’t reflected in the overall plot, felt like an afterthought, and made the player’s decision to romance him feel unimportant.


Dating your colleague in Magikras is a good example of such. So is a romanced Prodigal in Heroes Rise.

Cant speak for magi, but pg is an anti-example.
Because the entire plot there has her pretty much wearing a
“Tragic, doomed, edgy RO” sign.
The plot constantly drapes itself over a fainting couch over how traaaaaagic it is and traaagic the player must find her fate.

So. No.

Want a good example?


1 Like

Want another good example Origami is 13

I know (only makes it worse)
Also: we are not explicitely talking about chars one can romance, but chars that grow to one.

Which is why I was specific about only one detail in case that was what you were talking about.

Never write yourself into a corner

I agree it sort of depends. If it’s a story that is light or you know classic fantasy then that can get annoying especially if they are well designed characters. If this is heavy fantasy for instance then it is fine. I like when the story is gripping.

I think it heavily depends on the genre depected…
Say in a tragedy or horror it’s is ingrained in our minds due to past stories and movies that individuals are not saved by some mysterious plot armor, sometimes even those loved most only have the faintest of protection and the willingness to sacrifice even ourselves might be the only thing to save anyone and that just might not be enough.

In romance or comedy it’s far less expected almost unnerving in many instances, though in rare cases great tragedy can happen and it hurts but if the is a way out that fits the story it brings more enjoyment when we make it through (just make sure we can make it there without giving up on trying)

In drama and sci-fi it’s a intresting thing challenge unimmaginable is needed but a warning is best before hand movies foreboding and dramatic music, games “I’ve got a bad feeling” ect ect we know it’s coming and we can brace just it has to be subtle and make sense for the situation for the character. If we ignore the signs oh well.

TLDR: it’s all in the genre and how it’s handed to us we as readers despite our escapism if were forwarned or understand the genre we can handle what is following said path and it will soften the blow but it will still hurt so make sure it’s worth it.

Edit: perspective of a rpger and frequent gamer and VN reader across a multitude of genres.
Not a author (despite trying)


I mean we’ve already had the “eat human fingers, be raped and tortured” game…

Anyway, it depends on what kind of audience your targeting I guess. I mean there’s plenty of people ok with tragedy, genre shifts and deaths at any time. I mean things like Game of Thrones are popular. Plus if it is mandatory then there’s less characters to write, you’d just need to write the reaction to it.