Life (gaming)

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In this breakout clone, the player has two lives left before she gets a game over screen.

In video games, if a player character loses all of its health points, it loses a life. Losing all of one's lives is usually a loss condition and may force the player to start over. It is common in action games for the player character to have multiple lives and chances to earn more during the game. This way, a player can recover from making a disastrous mistake. role-playing games and adventure games usually give the player only one life, but allow them to reload a saved game.[1][2]


Lives may have originated from the pinball mechanic of having a limited amount of balls. A finite number of lives (usually three) became a common feature in arcade games. Much like in pinball games, the player's goal was usually to score as many points as possible with their limited number of lives.[3][4]

Later, checkpoints and saving allowed players that lost a life to continue the game at a specific point, rather than to start over. Refinements of health, defense and other attributes, as well as power-ups, made managing the player character's life a more strategic experience and made lost health less of the handicap it was in early acade games.[4]


Lives set up the situation where dying is not necessarily the end of the game, allowing the player to take risks they might not take otherwise. Multiple lives also allow novice players a chance to learn a game's mechanics before the game is over. Another reason to implement lives is that the ability to earn extra lives provide an additional reward incentive for the player.[3]

The problem that arrises when a player loses their lives frequently is that it discourages the player from continuing the game fairly. If losing a life causes a loss of equipment, skills or points, a player may feel inclined to reset a game to its previous save point whenever she is losing a life.[5]


  1. ^ Ernest, Adams (2010-04-07). Fundamentals of Game Design. New Riders. p. 161, 168. ISBN 013210475X. Retrieved 2014-12-19. 
  2. ^ Fullerton, Tracy (2008-02-08). Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. CRC Press. p. 72, 73. ISBN 0240809742. Retrieved 2014-12-19. 
  3. ^ a b Rouse III, Richard (2010-03-08). Game Design: Theory and Practice, Second Edition. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 60. ISBN 1449633455. Retrieved 2014-12-19. 
  4. ^ a b Lecky-Thompson, Guy W. (2008-01-01). "life". Video Game Design Revealed. Cengage Learning. p. 49. ISBN 1584506075. Retrieved 2014-12-19. 
  5. ^ Rogers, Scott (2014-04-11). Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design. John Wiley & Sons. p. 300. ISBN 1118877217. Retrieved 2014-12-19.