1-2. Stair Dismount and Truck Dismount
Video games are built for slapstick comedy. Most game characters operate by the physical laws of Wile E. Coyote: You can incinerate them, crush them, or drop them from great heights, and in the next scene they’ll be good as new again. The lack of consequences heightens the allure of self-destruction, and a hilarious sub-genre exploits that allure to its fullest. Games like Stair Dismount don’t just reward you for destroying yourself—they reward you based on how spectacular and thorough your self-annihilation is. Made by Finnish visual artist Jetro Lauha in 2002, Stair Dismount was a pioneer in the field. Your innocent character stands at the top of a plain set of stairs. The entire game is played by giving the overgrown rag doll a little shove. The specific nature of death varies wildly based on the position and force of your malevolent push, but the comedy is consistent.
While the guy in Stair Dismount seems like a hapless victim, the character in the sequel, Truck Dismount, is asking for it. This time, the man sits in (or, worse yet, atop) a truck headed for two asymmetrical ramps and a brick wall—the kind of thing auto-industry crash testers might devise after a late night and too many beers.
3. Burnout 3: Takedown
The Burnout series of racing games has always showcased its demolition-derby spirit, and Burnout 2 introduced a “crash mode” dedicated solely to creating massive vehicular pile-ups. But crash mode reached its apotheosis in Burnout 3: Takedown. The objective is, as ever, to hurl your car into a busy intersection at just the right time and place to twist traffic into an apocalyptic snarl. Takedown introduced the nonsensical “Aftertouch” feature, which slowed time so that you could inflict and witness the twist of metal in cinematic (or pornographic) fashion. You can practically see the stunned looks on bystanders’ faces when your gas tank somehow explodes for a third time.
4. World Of Warcraft: Wrath Of The Lich King
With 30 million YouTube hits, various merchandise tie-ins, and references on The Daily Show and Jeopardy!, the failed raid of Leeroy Jenkins’ guild is indisputably the most spectacular death in World Of Warcraft history. But the game itself rarely rewards players for kicking it. Its most self-destructive mission—a quest called “That’s Abominable!”—comes in the Wrath Of The Lich King expansion. It gives players some catharsis after the 10 levels they’ve spent fighting the undead, by letting them engage in a little necromancy themselves. You create and control a “Hulking Abomination,” a massive underworld lardass who shambles around attracting the ire of other undead until you choose to blow your misbegotten avatar up in the hopes of creating plenty of collateral damage. Do it well, and you get the satisfaction of watching corpses pile up around your abomination’s steaming guts. Mistime it, though, and you’re left with a bunch of pissed-off ghouls and zombies that will swarm your character and likely send you to a less glorious death.
5. Every Extend Extra
Only the synesthetic-minded designers at Q Entertainment—responsible for PSP mainstay Lumines and the cult hit Rez—could turn suicide bombing into a beautiful, otherworldly dance. In Every Extend Extra, you pilot an abstract spaceship in a universe of geometrical light beings. Your only form of defense, so to speak, is to blow yourself up and take as many shimmery foes with you as possible. Luckily, the enemies are a fair bit explosive themselves, so when you blast them to kingdom come, they send off their own blasts, creating chains of destruction. That bright ripple effect is the visual focus of Every Extend Extra and its Xbox 360 follow-up, Every Extend Extra Extreme.
6-7. Skate 2 and Skate 3
The “Hall Of Meat” mode in Electronic Arts’ skateboarding series is clearly inspired by the Dismount games, but Skate riffs on the ragdoll-brutality model of its forebears with some welcome additions. The most obvious is the inclusion of the skateboard, which allows players to build up some speed before hurling themselves into compound-fracture hell. Plus, the towering height of Skate’s death dives makes the staircase of Stair Dismount look like a puny tumble. Then there’s the built-in filming feature that, as noted in our previous Inventory about in-game photography, invites players to create their personal Jackass-style broadcasts.
8. The Splatters
The game that inspired this Inventory, SpikySnail’s recent physics-based puzzler takes showy suicide to the next level by turning it into a spectator sport. The goal of each board is to have your bright-eyed, smiling and chirping paint creatures liquefy themselves in order to disarm clusters and bombs. The controls are simple: Aim, jump, and let physics do the rest. The key is using mid-air jumps, successive jumps, and the environment to make the gooey carnage look as cool as possible. Rather than just show off high scores on the leaderboards, The Splatters offers Splatter TV, where players can watch clips from other games to learn new moves or solutions. The titular paint creatures are so cute you might feel bad about sending them to their doom, but they seem to be having such a good time. Plus, there are always more of them ready to die when you inevitably have to try a level over and over again.
9-11. Saints Row series
The criminals of Saints Row—an increasingly over-the-top take on the Grand Theft Auto formula—aren’t too choosy about their criminal activities. Gun thuggery may be their bread and butter, but they’re willing to play every angle, including Insurance Fraud—a side game that has players throwing their bodies into traffic for an instant, presumably court-ordered payoff. The most effective technique is to run like hell in front of an oncoming car and then go limp right before impact. Lucky for you, the citizen drivers of Saints Row are more than happy to play this game of chicken with you; they only hit the brakes when they hear bones crunching in their wheel well. Meanwhile, the on-screen display racks up your litigation jackpot with a “cha-ching!” sound effect. The Third Street Saints gang may have pride, but dignity? They fail to see the appeal.
12. Left 4 Dead
The point of most shooters is to stay alive. The longer you stay on your feet, unloading into the enemy, the better. But in Left 4 Dead’s asymmetric multiplayer matches, players on the zombie side of the aisle are expected to die often. For the infected, that means attacking in concert—a coordinated hail of claws and gore that can take down the survivors in fell swoop. An effective zombie attack is usually instigated by The Boomer, a rotund zombie bloated with gas and bile. The Boomer spews a gout of vomit that blinds the good guys and attracts other zombies. But once you’ve pulled the trigger, it takes a long time to brew up another barf. So smart Boomers make like a suicide bomber and jump right into the middle of the mayhem they caused with their initial upchuck. One stray bullet will make the Boomer explode, stunning the other team and coating them with a fresh dose of sick. That’s when your teammates come in and finish the job. Waiting to respawn is usually maddening, but in online gaming, there’s few sights more satisfying than watching the aftermath of an effective Boomer bombing and being able to say, “Yeah, that’s all because of me.”
At the center of this 2007 downloadable title for the then-fledgling PlayStation 3 is a human-size slingshot. Players strap their virtual jerk into the slingshot, pull back with the right control stick, then launch said jerk face-first into cartoonish urban landscapes stuffed with hit-me landmarks like large rotating donuts, teetering towers of scaffolding, and har-har gags like a “Moon River Proctology” billboard. The goal: to do as much bodily harm to your avatar as possible—a blow to the groin earns an Infertility multiplier, for instance—while simultaneously setting off a chain reaction of property damage. Your best efforts can be recorded for posterity, edited and uploaded to YouTube. Also worth noting: Virtual ready-to-launch versions of Elvira, David Hasselhoff, Andy Dick, and Flavor Flav can be purchased for $1.29 apiece.
14. Plain Sight
Exploding is not just its own reward in Plain Sight, it’s also the only reward. There’s plenty of other death to be had—this is a game where sword-wielding robots bounce around in low-gravity arenas, slicing their opponents from gear to axle. But those blade kills just give you energy, which is worthless in itself. It’s when you hit the self-destruct button—and all that energy engulfs you in a crackling ball of death—that the real points are finally awarded. They’re suicide points, in honor of your white-hot self-sacrifice, and they comprise the only score that matters in the final reckoning. More energy equals a bigger explosion, which means more hapless robots can die in its wake, which means more points for you. This turns Plain Sight into a game where death is to be avoided, until you can meet it on your own terms—in a blaze of glory, leaving behind nothing at all.