In the majority of video games, you respawn immediately after death. You return to your last save, and all your unsaved progress disappears. However, some games don’t make death the end. These games keep using your data, manipulating your death in unpredictable, disturbing ways. Your death affects the world and characters around you, showing just how terrifying and unavoidable death is.
For half the games on this list, death leaves a negative impact. The games punish you for losing a character. Even if you play cautiously, the games ruthlessly show you that you can’t be too careful. Since death always worsens your situation, you must fight for your survival like you would in the real world.
The remaining games on the list don’t punish you for death, but they nonetheless address death. They remind you of your virtual failures. You may always be aware of your successes and failures while playing games, but these games emphasize your deaths. Death becomes an inescapable mechanic—one which even the greatest players can’t avoid.
Obviously, a lot of games use your deaths as recordable data. Whether you’re killing virtual players or using multiple lives to complete a level, you use video game deaths to keep track of your progress. The games on this list go far beyond that. These 15 disturbing games use your data to transcend death and turn it against you.
15 Dark Souls
Dark Souls challenges players through immensely difficult combat as well as an unforgiving death system. When you respawn at your last checkpoint, Dark Souls continues using your data by separating your body and soul. The souls and humanity you’ve collected throughout the game remain where you died (if you die as a human, you revert to your undead, non-human form).
Checkpoints usually function as safety nets that preserve your progress, but Dark Souls severely punishes death. After dying, you only have one opportunity to regain your souls and humanity: if you die a second time without recollecting your items, they disappear forever. If you don’t play through the game carefully, you could lose hours of progress in a moment.
14 Metal Gear Solid
The Metal Gear games constantly break the fourth wall to amuse players, but Psycho Mantis disturbs players in Metal Gear Solid. Using psychokinesis, Pyscho Mantis demonstrates his powers by first reading Snake’s mind and then the player’s mind. He accesses your memory card and notes how often you’ve saved your game, what other games you play (such as Mario, The Legend of Zelda, or other games by Hideo Kojima), and your style of combat.
Psycho Mantis also notes your deaths. If you’ve died multiple times, he calls you “a poor warrior.” Otherwise, he describes you as “a highly skilled warrior.”
Metal Gear Solid uses the video game medium to make Psycho Mantis absolutely terrifying. Psycho Mantis knows everything about Snake’s life—as well as his deaths.
13 Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor
In most combat-oriented games, you must kill enemies in order to level up or gain better equipment. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor revolutionizes this central concept by letting your enemies level up in the same way. If an Uruk kills you, that Uruk gains physical and political power. They rise in rank and stats, making them more difficult to defeat.
Because of this leveling system (known as the Nemesis System), Shadow of Mordor feels like a living world. You still defy death by respawning, but your deaths actually impact the world. If your friends happen to be online when you die, they’ll receive a notification of your death. Shadow of Mordor then offers a Vendetta mission, which allows your friends to avenge your death and murder the Uruk who murdered you.
In order to beat ZombiU’s challenging campaign, you must push through claustrophobic halls filled with horrifying zombies. You’ll have a difficult time killing any zombies at first, but when you finally succeed you’re rewarded with better equipment. If you die, however, you lose all this equipment. You respawn back at the beginning of the game—as a completely different character. Your previous character revives as a zombie. If you want to regain all your hard-earned equipment, you have to find and kill your own character.
Through its unforgiving death system, ZombiU captures the hopelessness and brutality of the zombie apocalypse. If you want to survive, you have to kill people—including characters you controlled and became attached to.
11 The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of the Wild
Breath of the Wild brought 3-D Zelda combat to a completely new level. With powerful bosses and deadly environments scattered throughout the world, Breath of the Wild challenges all players.
The game acknowledges its difficulty by emphasizing death. When you die and respawn at your last save, you’ll notice a new marker on your map: a red X. The X marks the location of your death. If you place your cursor over the X, “R.I.P.” pops up next to your paradoxically nonexistent grave.
The marker serves as a disturbing warning. If you want to live, don’t return to the site of your death. The X also feels a bit condescending, particularly since Nintendo includes post-mortem tips like “it’s dangerous to approach enemies head-on” after you approach enemies head-on and die.
10 Forza Horizon 2
Forza Horizon 2’s “drivatars” are just as likely to impress you as disturb you. Rather than pitting you against uniform, predictable AI, Forza Horizon 2 creates AI based off of players’ driving behavior. The game tracks all your movements—including your deaths and crashes—to create AI that drive just like you.
Instead of pitting you against your own doppelganger, Forza Horizon 2 replaces you with a drivatar. When you aren’t competing online, the drivatar drives for you under your username. Other players race against your drivatar, who in turn rewards you points for its victories.
The drivatars are disturbing to think about (in the near-future, will we no longer be capable of distinguishing players from AI?), but they’re immensely fun to race against. Players and drivatars keep racing exciting and unpredictable.
9 Grand Theft Auto Online
When free roaming in Grand Theft Auto Online, you’re vulnerable to both NPCs and players. If you die, you respawn elsewhere—but your money doesn’t come with you. Your money simply disappears during offline play in Grand Theft Auto V, but in GTA Online your money drops out of your body. Other players may collect your money and thus profit from your death.
If a player kills you specifically to take your money, you have the opportunity for revenge. The game records your death and your killer, allowing you to place a bounty on your enemy and track them down. You can kill that player and take back your money—unless they deposit your money in a bank, which permanently turns your cash into their unobtainable money.
8 Hack, Slash, Loot
Unlike most games with unlockable characters, Hack, Slash, Loot rewards both success and failure. If you beat levels, you unlock new characters. If you die multiple times in a level, you’ll still unlock characters.
Some players may appreciate the help, while players seeking a challenge feel cheated. Fortunately, Hack, Slash, Loot encourages success over intentional failure. While victories consistently reward you, death becomes exponentially less rewarding. When following the failure path (either intentionally or accidentally), you first unlock a character at 9 deaths, followed by 16 deaths, 25 deaths, 36 deaths, etc.
Hack, Slash, Loot initially holds your hand but quickly makes death an unrewarding option. That doesn’t stop players from using death as a strategy. When reaching particular stages, some players disturbingly use suicide to unlock better characters.
7 Guild Wars 2
The Guild Wars games include a variety of fun commands like “/dance” and “/wave” that bring your character to life. Whether you’re greeting friends or showing off a mean air-guitar, you can interact with the world as much as you like.
Other commands offer information about your character—including the number of times you’ve died. If you type “/deaths” in Guild Wars 2, you’ll learn just how often your character’s suffered painful death. The other informative command is “/age,” which states how long you’ve played the game as that avatar and how long you’ve played overall. With such information available, you can easily calculate your character’s average lifespan—but your character probably wouldn’t enjoy the statistics.
Jotun opens with your Viking character, Thora, dying an inglorious death. She dies at sea rather than in combat. To gain glory in death and ascend to Valhalla, Thora must battle the gods.
When you face Odin at the end of the game, he explains your situation and battles you. If you die, you respawn before the fight—but he doesn’t speak to you a second time. He battles you again and again, all without repeating his first words.
A lot of games keep using your save data to skip boss cutscenes, but none are as disturbing as Jotun. Thora is trapped in purgatory: until she defeats Odin, she cannot rest in peace. If she isn’t strong enough, Thora will die over and over, endlessly seeking the halls of Valhalla without ever reaching them.
5 Super Meat Boy
Many platformers include replays of your successes, but few record your deaths. Some games allow you to save individual death replays, but Super Meat Boy records them all without asking. When you complete a level, the game shows you all your attempts in a single replay. Dozens of Meat Boys run across the stage at once—and all of them die except one.
This mechanic is satisfying but also disturbing. After spending so much time in a challenging level, you watch how you progressed and finally conquered the stage. However, you also watch Meat Boy die a million bloody deaths. Your failures amplify your success but force you to watch Meat Boy—and yourself—die all over again.
4 Mario Kart
In the Mario Kart franchise’s time trials, you race against your own time. However, you don’t race alone: your past self races with you. This Ghost shows you the race in which you established your personal record. In order to obtain a new record, you must beat your Ghost.
The Ghost wonderfully shows you how well you’re doing, but it’s pretty disturbing to race against. If you touch your Ghost, you pass straight through it; you even occupy the same space at the start of the time trial. Most games give you the option of saving replays, but Mario Kart saves your Ghost whether you consent or not. You leave behind an avatar, and the game forever traps it.
In the recent online Mario Kart games, you race against other players’ Ghosts. They morbidly remind us that once we pass away, our actions are forever sealed in the past.
NieR offers four different endings—two of which you can’t access until your third playthrough. After playing through the linear A and B endings, you choose between Endings C and D. In Ending C, you kill Kainé to end her suffering; in ending D, you sacrifice yourself in order to cure her. You sacrifice your entire existence, causing the other characters—including your own family—to forget you.
While the other games on this list preserve parts of your dead self, NieR uses your data to destroy you. When you choose Ending D, your save data apparently disappears. If you try to start the game with the same name, however, the game stops you. Your previous character may never exist again; if you want to replay the game, you must do so with a new name.
2 Rogue Legacy
Respawning doesn’t exist in Rogue Legacy. When your character dies, they permanently die. Your data nonetheless survives, and your character’s child inherits that data. All the items and EXP you gained pass onto the next character.
Mechanically, Rogue Legacy’s death system helps players by transferring all your progress into a new character. If you sympathize with the characters, however, you’ll feel much less comfortable. Your original character died in order to protect their family, and now their family must face the same dangers. Because you inherit their legacy, it is your duty to avenge them. The family progressively builds toward a better future, but they build with a foundation of tombstones. No matter how much you succeed, you can’t forget how many people died to pave the way for you.
If you’ve played Undertale, you know just how disturbing Flowey is. The living flower greets you at the beginning of the game and teaches you that “in this world, it’s kill or BE killed.” At the end of your first playthrough, he fulfills this philosophy by murdering you.
However, Flowey isn’t satisfied with conventional death. He first closes the entire game—a terrifying experience for new players, who think they just lost all their unsaved progress. When you reopen the game, Flowey reveals that he saved over your old file so he can kill you again and again. When you die, you respawn on the battlefield so Flowey may fulfill his endless bloodlust.
Fortunately, the game hangs onto your progress so that, no matter how many times you die, you eventually beat Flowey. The multiple deaths may traumatize you, but at least you escape in the end.