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Lives represent a measure of opportunities that a player has to succeed in the game. They are a limited resource that provide a means to both recover from failure but also exerts a pressure to succeed in the game. Players may be presented with opportunities to earn more Chances. Colloquially they are often referred to as chances, opportunities or tries.

Expenditure (or loss) of a life implies a break in gameplay as opposed to a continuous gameplay experience in which certain attributes may decrease over time. For example, if the character the player controls has a shield which is able to take damage (and disappear), it should not be considered a life, since the players gameplay experience is not interrupted when, say, a missile hits the shield and disappears. The break in gameplay is usually accompanied by a representation of the loss incurred. For example, an animation of the player-controlled avatar falling to the ground in a faint.

We note that the term Lives has been chosen for its ubiquity when referring to discussion of gaming. It is of course an anthropomorphic term that is inconsistent with certain games (such as spaceships or vehicles).


Strong Examples

Aliens:Infestation (DS)

In Aliens:Infestation the player controls a soldier who is investigating what happened to the Sulaco and LV-426 (the events of the movie Aliens). The player starts with a team of four marines one of which is the active one. If a marine dies in combat, that marine is gone forever, and another team member replaces him/her immediately. Each marine represents (literally) one life. Throughout the game, the player can locate additional marines that will join "the team" thus gaining "more lives".

Super Smash Bros

In this game you have a certain amount of lives in single player. When going through the enemies, if you lose all your lives you must start over from the beginning. In multiplayer, you can choose a life or time setting. If you choose lives then you set them to a certain amount and if you exhaust those lives before your opponent you lose. You may not gain lives here, but if you allow certain items to appear you may gain health which can prolong your lives.

The Castlevania Adventure

In Castlevania Adventure, you are given a set amount of lives. More lives can be earned by obtaining them throughout the levels or achieving fixed amount of points through kills and item collection. Once your live have been exhausted, the game ends and forces you to start over from the beginning. This game is a strong example of using a "lives" system.

Vectorman 2

Vectorman 2 is a very strong example of the concept of having lives in a video game. Like many 2D platformers, the player is given an affordance of lives at the start, and attaining extra lives proves exceedingly difficult. Vectorman 2 is a rather difficult game, although not as difficult as its predecessor.

Super Mario Bros

Super Mario bros. for super nintendo is a perfect example of a game consisting of lives. The object is to pass each level without dieing and you get a certain amount of lives and gain some lives along the way. The whole game strives off of the player being able to play the game without dieing. So, its a strong example


The game Battletoads for the SNES is a strong example of a game the has lives. The characters have a limited amount of health and if enough damage is dealt to them, they lose a life. If the player loses all three lives, he/she has the option of continuing from the start of the level that they died on, but if they lose all of their lives again, its game over. Luckily for the player, it is possible to acquire more lives by completing "bonus challenges."

Lost planet

In this game you are trying to kill aliens and survive. Once you lose your single life the game is over. You must keep your thermal energy shield up or you will die and have to start the level over.


In Pac-Man, whenever a ghost catches Pac-Man, the player loses a life. Pac-Man reappears in the center of the screen and all the eaten dots remain eaten. The number of lives remaining is indicated by the existence of a Pac-Man icon in the corner of the screen.

Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks

In the game Mortal Kombat, the player has a life bar which represents how much health is available. Once all the health is used up, the player dies and must start the level over again. Player can attain health killing monsters throughout the game and the extra health recovers some of the lost health. This increases the chance of completing the current level and moving on to the next, and if player dies, he/she will start again at the new level.

Donkey Kong

A strong example of game that utilizes lives is Donkey Kong for NES. Lives are pivotal to the gameplay, as they are the foundation for how long you can play the game, as well as the indicator of how successful you are. If you run out of lives, your game is over, and if you gain lives along the way, it increases your chances greatly of beating the game.

Beyond Good and Evil

For "Beyond Good and Evil," players have lives as well as a heart gauge that can be depleted until it becomes zero, then the game takes one away. The player can get more lives throughout the game by collecting the right item. Once the lives becomes zero, the game is over.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog for Sega Genesis has lives. However, in Sonic, the lives seem to come and go a little bit easier than in most platform games. There are copious rings to collect along the way, but it also seems that there are accordingly large number of possible ways to lose them, such as the multitude of enemies, spikes, and so on.

Super Mario Brothers

In Super Mario Brothers for Gameboy, the progression of the game is based around one's lives. For instance, Mario begins the game with five lives. These lives are represented by mushrroms in the upper right hand corner of the screen. However, lives can be gained by collecting the special mushrooms or a certain amount of coins. Once a player has lost all of his or her lives, the game is over and the player must begin again from the beginning of where he or she saved.

Spyro (2): Ripto's Rage

In Ripto's Rage, Spyro begins the game with five lives and is able to gain more by finding butterflies either stuck in bottles or from random fodder creatures in every level. Along with lives, Spyro's sidekick, Sparx, changes color three times if Spyro is hit or does something to damage himself. If the player messes up somehow and dies due to the environment or gets hit four times, a life is subtracted and Spyro restarts from the last save point. If all lives are lost the game ends and the player must retry the level from the very beginning.

Weak Examples

Halo 2

Halo 2 does not have a limit on lives. Lives in this game don't really exist, you can die as many times as you need to. You can, of course, die in the game, however it is only a credit to your enemy and it doesn't really limit your gameplay.

Persona Revelations

In Persona, you only get one life as any other RPG game. Once you die, you are given an option to turn off the game or load your last saved game file.


This Real Time strategy doesn't technically deal with the life system. You may loose troops, and you can build more, but you are not limited to the amount of troops you may build. You do have a unit limit for each map, but these units can die and then be rebuilt an infinite amount of times. The overall strategy of the game, is you have your base and you must defeat the other players. Technically, you only have one life, since once your base is destroyed, the game is over. This is not the traditional use of lives, since you have no way of retrying once your are dead.

Texas Hold'em

Texas Hold'em tournament style is an weak example of lives. The use of chips is the equivalent of the more standard term for lives, ie in Mario you can only die a certain amount until your lives run out. Players lose chips as they make mistakes, and gain chips as they do well.

Vanguard:Saga of Heroes

Vanguard:Saga of Heroes is an MMORPG, and is a weak example of lives. The character has a health bar, that when killed by an enemy will reach 0. Upon reaching 0 the character respawns at the closest altar to where they died, and they must run back to their corpse to retrieve lost experience from death. Death causes item deterioration and experience loss, this makes death unfavorable and the player works to avoid it. The character has essentially one continuous life and does not suffer any permanent repercussions.

Warning Forever

Warning Forever is a Japanese Shmup consisting of purely boss battles. If the player plays in the normal mode, there are no lives. The only life the player has is spent destroying boss after boss while a timer counts down to the end of the game. When the ship explodes, the time left is cut and you're immediately spawned again to continue the game. There is no significant break in gameplay.

Jedi Knight

Any game such as Jedi Knight where the game exhaustion is demonstrated by a single death seems to show a weak example of lives as a way to recover from failure. In this game, there is no recovery from death. Although Qui-Gon ‘did’ find a solution to it in Star Wars… interesting.

Age of Empires

AoE is a weak example because of lives because a player only has one. Once all his or her units and buildings have been killed or destroyed, the game is over. The player can opt to 'resign' once its obvious there is no hope of winning, but that also causes a loss. Either way, the way to not lose is to live, for if a player 'dies' the game is over.

Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks

This game is a weak example of lives because the players only has a certain amount of health given to them. The health is basically the player's only life and if he/she dies, they must start the level again. There is an unlimited number of times the player can try beating the level again, thus the player will never die and the game will never end.

Diddy Kong Racing

Diddy Kong is a weak example of the importance of lives because there us no set number of lives alloted to each character. You can, however, lose a race, but that has no effect on the quantity of times you can play as you simply start over when a race is lost.

The Sims

The Sims is a weak example of a game having lives, becuase the sims basically only have one life. One your Sim dies, the game is over.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07

The object of this game is just to play gold tournaments and try to win them and make your character as good as possible. there is no real way to"die" in this game, you just win or lose the golf tournament or beat the layer you are playing against or not.

Final Fantasy X

Final Fantasy X and the whole Final Fantasy series is a weak example because the characters basically only have one life. When the HP bar is depleted to zero for the active party, then the Game Over screen appears and you must start over from the last save point.


In Half-Life, the player-controlled character has an energy bar that reflects his current health level. When this energy bar is depleted, a life is lost. However, in Half-Life the player only has one life.


A weak example of a game in which lives are a factor is Civilization for PC. The object of the game is to build your civilization from bottom up and does include battles. However, in these battles, only units that you have created can lose their lives. Furthermore, even if some of your units die, you can still create more, giving each unit’s well being less meaning. It is possible to argue that if your civilization is wiped out you lose your lone life. However, this is ludicrous, because even if your civilization is demolished your people become citizens of the civilization that captured you.

The Secret of Monkey Island

In The Secret of Monkey Island, there is no representation of health, and the player only has one life. However, there is one and only one way for the player to die: when Guybrush is underwater early in the game, he will die if he remains there for more than ten minutes. Upon dying, the player can choose actions such as "bob" and "float", but it is impossible to continue the game.

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

In Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, fairies have healing powers. "Touching" a fairy will restore some of Link's hearts, but the fairies can also be captured by use of the bee net. If Link possesses an empty bottle, the fairy can be stored in the bottle for later release/use as normal. Additionally, if a bottled fairy exists in Link's inventory upon depletion of hearts, Link will die, but be immediately resurrected with half of his maximum hearts filled, and gameplay continues. If no fairy is present, the player must reload from a save point.

This is a weak example of Lives because Zelda does not have an explicit representation of this concept, the hearts representing Link's health in a similar fashion to Half-Life's health bar. However, when the player has captured a fairy and dies, the resurrection is functionally similar to what happens in regular games with lives. In this sense, the fairy in the bottle is equivalent to Link having an extra "life" stored away.

Curry House CoCo Ichibanya

In Curry House CoCo Ichibanya, the life of the player is based on the satisfaction of the satisfaction of the customers. However, there is no "life bar" of sorts to determine the state of the satisfaction of the customers. Also, once you have failed in the task of keeping the customers happy, you die, but you only have one life.

Hotel Dusk Room 215

In Hotel Dusk Room 215 the player has no life meter and no awareness of the number of lives they have. When the player answers a question wrong they are sent to reload back from their save point but no mention of lives remaining or the loss of a life are noticed or notified. The game abstracts the concept of lives and seems to give you one life and when lost the player is forced to reload from a save point or to restart the entire game.

Grand Theft Auto III

In Grand Theft Auto III for Playstation 2, the player has an infinite amount of lives. For instance, the player can continue to die over and over again until he or she tires of the game. The player will continue the game at the saved area after each death. Death does not effect Game play in this game due to the fact that one has an infinite amount of tries to become successful in the game.

World of Warcraft

The World of Warcraft is a weak example of a game with lives. Each player has one live but when he dies, he just has to run back to his body to restore his life. Also, the health bar which determines the life of a character regenerates as the player is not fighting. The player seems to hold infinite possibilities as they can simply run back to their lifeless body and play once again.

Rainbow Six Las Vegas

In Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas, the game aims for realism so the concept of lives is not utilized like a standard game. There is an infinite amount of lives, which are more accurately described as restarts.There is a tiny indicator on the screen display that becomes a darker shade of red when you take damage. Only a few hits will kill the player and then he is given to choice to be sent back to the last checkpoint or restart the level.

Halo 2

Halo 2 is a weak example of "lives" because it seems as though the player has endless chances rather than a measurable number of lives. Rather than the player's "health" depleting, their shield is reduced as they are attacked. After the shield is fully depleted, the player is exposed to the elements. These elements include ammunition, grenades, and explosive barrels and shrapnel. Also, if a player falls a great distance the shield depletes. After the player is killed, they simply respawn at the last checkpoint, or at the beginning of the level, depending on their progress.

Jak and Daxter

This is a weak example of "lives" because no matter how many times the player dies, the game is not over. It could be said that the player has infinite lives, and can die as many times as is necessary to complete a particular objective in the game.

Trace Memory

Trace Memory (Nintendo DS) is considered a weak example of the "Lives" concept. An adventure game, the player follows the narrative progression with an awareness of only a single live, and though that life is at one point in peril within the story line, no actual risk of loss of life exists within gameplay. But through this narrative based risk of death, the player becomes aware of the presence of life.

Shadow of the Colossus

This is a weak example of lives because although you can be defeated, their is no real punishment for defeat. You fight one huge and complicated enemy at a time in this game, and when you die you must merely go back to where they are waiting. You don't face any real or severe consequences, and you will more than likely be defeated trying to figure out how to destroy the enemy.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2

This fighting game is a weak example because of the nature of how lives work in the game, once your life bar runs out you die, and the next character comes out and once all the characters are defeated the game is over. So as a result there is a notion of lives but you must start the game over to play again.

Resident Evil Four

Though providing the player with a given ammount of health, after which the player will die if he is hurt, Resident Evil Four is a very weak example of a game with Lives. This is due to the fact that the player has unlimited lives; the player can continue playing indefinitely no matter the number of deaths he or she faces. Though this game HAS lives, the lives play a very minimal role because they do not affect gameplay.

Pikmin 2

In Pikmin 2, the player does not have an option of gaining multiple lives. The player only has one life and if the player dies, the game ends and he is forced to start the level over again. For the most part, there is no real risk to the player's life, only that of the Pikmin he controls.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

When in trial, Phoenix Wright must make calculated objections as he cannot make too many. If these objections are called at the wrong time or with the wrong evidence in mind, Mr. Wright loses an objection token. When these tokens, expressed in icons represented by exclamation points, are depleted, Wright and the player lose the trial and must start from the last save point. There are no such tokens during days of investigation, so the game does not entirely revolve around this system much like Lives. When Wright loses a token, he does not have to start over again, instead he just has to rethink his decisions. (Davehansen)

Gears of War

In the XBox360 game Gears of War, players only have one life. If the player dies in campaign they must retry starting form the last checkpoint. This is a weak example because the only consequence of death is a slight setback in overall progress. Having infinite lives downplays the importance of staying alive.


NBA 2k7 has no player life system, as do most sports games. Players are substituted in and out of the game depending on certain factors such as energy level, amount of fouls, tempo of the game, etc. Players are taken out after they reach thier sixth foul and they are not able to return to the game again. When playing this game there is very little feeling that you are limited to a specified amount of lives.

Final Fantasy Tactics

In Final Fantasy Tactics, characters can die but the player doesn't lose unless their main character falls and is not revived within 3 of their turns. Non-essential characters can die permanently if the same counter expires without them being revived, but there is no effect on the game's story or on the gameplay besides the absence of the lost unit. There are also some guest units that can fall in battle without the risk of permanently dying. Units can be revived an infinite number of times as long as the player has means to do so (which can also be infinite).

Diddy Kong Racing 64

Diddy Kong Racing for Nintendo 64 is a weak example of a game with lives. The game is mostly a racing game and a player can only win or lose a race. Lives are not a factor of gameplay, if a player loses, he or she must continue trying to win. Advancing through the game is based on having the correct amount of balloons that are won in races and lives do not come into play: the game is over when the player turns off the game not when a player loses all their lives.

Game Ontology Relations