One of the most memorable parts of any video game can be either dying (and thus, losing the game) or witnessing a supporting character die that you’ve gotten to know well. As games and the stories they tell get more complex, there have been more memorable deaths than ever before. The thing that’s different about playing a game from reading a book or watching a movie is that you imbue yourself in the character you control. It becomes an avatar and you place yourself in the story. So when a game is well executed, you will remember a death. Here is our entirely unscientific list of the ten most memorable deaths in video games. There are spoilers for the following games, in case you don’t want to know anything about them: Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, Final Fantasy VII, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Red Dead Redemption, Gears of War 3, Mass Effect 3, The Walking Dead, Bioshock Infinite, and The Last of Us. The reasons they are memorable vary. And there are many fantastic games we did not include. My friend Jeff was furious with me, for instance, for not using Halo 4 and thought I was nuts for including a Call of Duty game. Them’s the breaks.
1. Pac-Man (1980): Pac-Man
The dying sound is iconic! Plus, this was one of the very first characters you could control, unlike sports-based games like Pong. The sound of Pac-Man dying and the sight of him shriveling up into nothingness was very stressful at one time.
2. Mortal Kombat (1992): Any fatality
One of the first games to really get bloody as well as using motion capture for the characters. It was over the top and therefore a bit cartoony, but it also made dying in a game a very visceral and memorable experience.
3. Final Fantasy VII (1997): Aeirth
I would argue that anyone who has played this game might call this death the most emotional. You invest a LOT of hours in this Final Fantasy game and then you suddenly lose the most innocent member of your party. Lots of players kept expecting to find a way to bring her back, but no. Aerith/Aeris dies and it makes your journey that much more personal and the enemy that much more dangerous.
4. Modern Warfare 2 (2009): Ghost and Roach
Some people say the Call of Duty games aren’t very deep. I agree that most of them aren’t. But in the campaign/main story for Modern Warfare 2, you fight alongside your allies Roach and Ghost the entire way. And then they are suddenly betrayed by a rogue general. It’s pretty surprising because at least Ghost seemed primed to be the star of his own games at some point.
5. Red Dead Redemption (2010): John Marston
You play as John Marston in this epic Western and what other ending could there really be to such a large story? You eventually fight an impossible battle to allow your family time to escape. There’s an epilogue mission but you play as a different character. It’s really amazing how powerful Marston’s death can be but then again, you’ve imprinted yourself on this character over many hours of gameplay.
6. Gears of War 3 (2011): Dom Santiago
Dom is the best friend, the number 2 guy in a team of badasses and he’s gone through the heartbreak of losing his kids and wife. You get to know him very well over THREE games and then he sacrifices himself to save the team about halfway through this game. It hurts because Dom is so loyal and dependable. He’s already had so much tragedy. The game suitably amps up the emotion to his death with the use of the song “Mad World.”
7. Mass Effect 3 (2012): Shepherd
Here’s another character you’ve known for three games. But the difference is YOU are Shepherd. And the Mass Effect games are much longer than the Gears of War games. Also, you make choices and that affects how the story goes and what happens to those around you. You create your own version of Shepherd. Losing him is a losing something you helped create.
8. The Walking Dead (2012): Lee Everett
I enjoy the Walking Dead comics and tv show but I think the single best Walking Dead story might just be the first game by Telltale Games. It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure type of game where you solve puzzles and talk to people to move your way through the story. Lee is a complex character. He’s a killer, possibly justified, who takes on the responsibility of taking care of a child that’s not his. You play as him over the course of five episodes that form a complete story. Losing him is absolutely heartbreaking because at his core, Lee is a good person. Maybe one of the most well-rounded in all of Walking Dead fiction.
9. Bioshock Infinite (2013): Booker DeWitt
Booker DeWitt is the protagonist of Bioshock Infinite and ultimately sacrifices himself. But to truly explain why his death is memorable would be to explain a very intricate and complex story that involves multiple parallel worlds. It’s just too confusing to put into a few sentences. But if you’ve played it the story reveals at the end are huge twists that change how you look at everything you’ve done as Booker throughout the game. His death really shapes the story into a weird spiral that wouldn’t have worked any other way.
10. The Last of Us (2013): Sarah
A lot of people die in the post-apocalyptic game The Last of Us, but the first death is the one that hurts the most. It sets the stage and tells us everything we need to know about one of the two main characters, Joel, and why he is the way he is. A single father trying to get his young daughter, Sarah, to safety when the world goes crazy, it builds up to a tragedy that defines everything that follows and sets the sad tone ahead.