We have been losing lives.
Sonic started with 3 and could pick up others, once his lives were spent he was catapulted back to the start. Sonic was always fighting to delay the inevitable, obsessively hording rings in an attempt to hold back the countdown and prevent his death for just a little longer. Eventually, though, he would curl into his distinctive ball and roll down that hill again.
Sonic was bound to the Sega Megadrive and the Sega Megadrive could not remember. It could not remember how far Sonic got last time. How far he got before tea, how far he got before school, how far he got before bed. Like a coin toss, the Megadrive could not remember. Every time the machine was switched off, no matter how far sonic had rolled up the hill, he was sent plummeting to the ground again.
In this way, Sonic had a temporal quality. He existed only in that moment, just attempting to squeeze one more level in before he was sent, reanimated, back to the starting line. His days were numbered and time spent with him was always dwindling. He knew that closure may be snatched away from him by matters outside of his control, interruption from the outside world. Every step was an exercise in futility. But I made him run none the less.
Now we have no lives. Or rather, unlimited lives. Lives don’t even come into it. (is there a difference between unlimited lives and no lives?) We just respawn at the nearest checkpoint or autosave. Our lives are as expendable and meaningless as the hordes of enemies we kill. Our deaths, a minor intrusion on the plot that is quickly brushed away and corrected. They become opportunities for entertainment, as our limbs flail and our bodies hurtle through space. A satisfying performance of a games physics engine.
In fact, it is now less common for us to count down lives, as they drip away from our avatars, but to count up deaths as we play our wars of perpetual attrition, where the in-game soldier count never goes down and the death count only goes up. The soldiers spawn in and are offered up on the videogame altar to die and, unlike sonic, they will forever respawn until other conditions are met, their deaths are arbitrary. A death does not take away their life. It’s as if they are gaining lives as opposed to losing them. They have life again, on the same battlefield, with the same guns, just with a another death under their name.
We are reminded of war.
The victor is the team with the least meaningless deaths.