“Remembering How You Died”: Memory, Death and Temporality in Videogames

By Souvik Mukherjee.

This talk I already read the abstract of, and while not understanding all of it, the analogy of the players avatars and save/load feature to reincarnation and religious avatars in Hindu mythology is interesting.


Death is certain games implies rebirth, although most will simply end. Religiously there are varying interpretations of this.

Karma is used in real life to detail the aspects of consequence after death, it is more loosely used in games.

Sands of Time uses a quicksave/load system but in the actual game world. This is rebirth, although not into a different body, and no time travel occurs. It restarts though, weapons are lost from up to that point and the past implies there are similarities with karma which sometimes implies memory of previous events. This applies to the player as well.

There is memory and similar aspects in Assassins Creed (with visual indicators representing DNA and memory too). It is reliving the life of an ancestor, bringing in the concept of an avatar.

First popularised in Ultima, among other things, Avatar means a reincarnation of a god in real life, suhc as the Dasavatara. The avatar the player has reincarnation, karma and repetitions (with save and load) too.

With the knowledge gained before going back in time (reloading or reincarnating) allows players to go down different temporalities.

Karma has problems with some action-reincarnation problems. Stealing a cabbage gives you reincarnating as a peacock.

There is the potential hanging over people when Karma is invoked, under the Buddishm methodology. Players don’t have to deal with repeated potential – any actions that were taken are removed when it is loaded, or reincarnated. Players can also change what they do.

People have used games as a theory between multiplicity (choice of actions) and the real world – an example being throwing dice, individual events with separate outcomes.


How about videogame preservation? Recording a video of a playthrough?

It’s a varying amount of difference to the reincarnation part, it is one possibility of the multitude of playthroughs.

Any further information on to Indian Games?

There are not any real Indian games, but they could bring in these kind of elements. Bringing in rebirth and so forth, like Assassins Creed, but with rebirth not just playing memories.

Any further religious natures to these games?

Not trying to put forward a religious relationships here at all – as Assassins Creed wouldn’t go well with Buddist teaching (which involves no killing).

2 thoughts on ““Remembering How You Died”: Memory, Death and Temporality in Videogames”

  1. Andrew,

    Most games don’t record the places you died, but I think there are a few exceptions. I seem to remember Oregon Trail would save grave markers, but this may just be poor imagination. A more recent title is the Japanese indie game, Holdover, which records death locations with blood splashes. The author is dealing primarily with Hindu symbolism, but if you’re talking about memory and death, this is one to mention. Unfortunately, it isn’t symbolic beyond indicating troublesome spots to watch out for to help you solve the puzzles.

  2. Re-reading the notes Souvik posted I didn’t intend to feel this was a thing about persistence of death – nor I think did Souvik imply that.

    What I meant was the current Save/Load mechanics are generally the “Groundhog day” style – you load immediately back at your point of save with the full knowledge of what happens in the future, and no one is the wiser in the game world – you have retained the memories. 🙂

    However, time carrying on and you immediately reincarnating is a fascinating idea – especially if it is recorded somehow or somesuch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Website and journal of Andrew Armstrong