Francis’s gone. No one ever really liked him, but he was one of us, if not the best of us. We didn’t see the tank coming until it was nearly on top of us. Francis was running rear guard; the damned thing threw him into a train before we could put up any kind of defense. Zoey and Louis were nearly a block ahead picking up supplies, by the time I’d gotten their attention Francis was a blood slick on the tracks. I’ve seen those tanks at work before, seen ‘em tear a man apart at the waist. This ain’t my first time to the rodeo, after all. But man, did that thing do a number on him. Then the witch showed up. We didn’t have them back in ’57, and sometimes when I lay awake at night – Hell, who am I kidding? Ain’t like I ever sleep anymore – I wonder what happened to make ‘em what they are. Everything else about these monsters I feel like I got some kinda handle on: they’re just mouths, I figure, mouths and stomachs and guts without much else to keep ‘em human. But those witches – what kinda thing has to happen to a deadhead to make it cry? So Zoey and Louis are running back, and I’m shouting to ‘em that Francis isn’t much more than a stain anymore and there isn’t much of anything we can do about that and for God’s sake give me some cover, and then I hear that noise, that sobbing that never fails to raise the hair on my neck. And it stops, and I know it only ever goes quiet before the damned thing attacks, and I hear Zoey scream as something knocks her off her feet. I didn’t have time to warn them to shut off their flashlights, it must’ve seen them coming a mile away. Here’s where I’m ashamed to say I started running. Call me a coward if you like, but between a tank and a witch there’s no winning. Everyone’s gotta go sometime, and it’s gotta be said that Zoey and Francis made it longer than most. I just hope Louis is smart enough to make the same call. I made it out of the train yard before I turned around. There were a few dozen of the bastards closing in on Louis from the north, plus another twenty he hasn’t seen yet pouring into the tunnel from the east. He’s doing a fair job keeping ‘em off Zoey, but she’s done for and he has to know it. I can’t help but think that – What the fuck? Ok, Francis is back, I guess. Uh, I think he got better from being, you know, turned into paste. Maybe he had a med pack? Or…pills? Can pills do that? Oh, ok, and Zoey isn’t really dead. She was…uh…hiding inside the switch operator’s office. Ok, so that’s good for her. Louis? Is he still – no, he looks pretty fucked. There are about thirty zombies around him, and they’re working on – scratch that, they are finished tearing off his arms. We’ll have to pick him up later, he might need to walk that off. Anyway, as I was saying, Francis is fine. Here’s where Left 4 Dead went from being a terrifying survival-horror game to a pretty standard multiplayer romp through the woods. I was fully immersed in the pants-wetting crisis before me – seriously, a tank is no laughing matter – and then we found our dead friend hiding in a closet. This is not the sort of development that generates emotional resonance. I’m a little frustrated with games that offer easy re-spawning. We were talking a little while ago about the obstacles still standing between today’s video games and tomorrow’s “narrative engine” (to paraphrase Mr. Guillermo del Toro), and with a little reflection I think I’ve hit upon one of the biggest ones: games want you to live. I think this struck me first as I was playing one of the Resident Evil games, maybe 5. I’d played through one scene about a half dozen times, I’d discovered the glut of uniquely flavored deaths I could experience at the hands of an undead tribe, and I got to thinking: what if this is where my character was meant to die? What if this is just the dramatically logical end to his journey into hell? (Ok, the Resident Evil games probably aren’t the best examples of sound storytelling. Still.) I can count the number of great works of literature with happy endings on one hand, and I’m including Calvin and Hobbes in that estimate. So it’s frustrating that the video game, that narrative medium that is meant to afford us entirely new vistas to behold, has yet to really include any titles where failure is a real, dramatically realized option. What about the elf who confronts his arch-nemesis and finds himself grossly out-matched? The Sith Lord who cannot betray his master? The plumber who gets stuck in a pipe? Who will tell their stories? Romeo and Juliet differs from, say, a Harlequin romance novel in both superior writing and the willingness to delve into tragedy. (To clarify, both belong to the former, though I guess that’s a matter of taste.) So when will we see tragic video games? Games where failure is a scripted, developed option? I’d like to see a game where you can’t re-spawn; where there are not save points before boss fights; where, in short, every challenge offers the possibility of success and the very real chance of failure. I think it’d add a lot to a game’s appeal if the player wasn’t certain of success; I’d worry more about my character’s safety, but be equally pleased if he died and his death was honored with more than a “Game Over” screen. Dulce et decorum, and all. I want to see Link fail once in a while. I think it’s the only way his story can really succeed.