still one of the greatest moments in video game history

Another thing about firms and inertia and video games, here’s a puzzler – why did the institution of the “life” persist so long in video games? It’s clear why it emerged – it was a cap on the amount of trial-and-error a gamer could engage in with an arcade machine before having to pay for the privilege of further experimentation. That makes sense. But the institution of awarding players some set of lives, after which they experienced “game over,” persisted long, long after it had any usefulness. Certainly there were some games, like StarFox 64, where the mechanism had some justification (you had to start from the beginning of the level sequence if you ran out of lives, eradicating your progress) but it continued in others even when, after you ran out of lives, you largely got to return to where you were before.


Most indie games, now, have scrapped that mechanism entirely, either going with a challenging “die and you start over” mechanism or a “keep trying until you get it” mechanism where appropriate, but it seems to have taken a lot of independent outsiders to experiment sufficiently with the entrenched habits of game design to find new meta-regulatory mechanisms that varied appropriately with other elements of game design. Even otherwise brilliant games made by major firms like Nintendo and Rare and Sega stuck to existing models unwaveringly largely out of inertia.