Life (video games)

A generic character has a total of three lives, indicated as light-blue orbs. The character has currently lost 3.5 out of 11 health points – losing all would cost a life.

In video games, a life is a play-turn that a player-character has, defined as the period between start and end of play.[1][self-published source?] Lives refer to a finite number of tries before the game ends with a game over.[2] It is sometimes called a chance or a try, particularly in all-ages games, to avoid the morbid insinuation of losing one's "life".[3] Generally, if the player loses all their health points, they lose a life. Losing all lives usually grants the player-character "game over", forcing them to either restart or stop playing.

The number of lives a player is granted varies per game type. A finite number of lives became a common feature in arcade games and action games during the 1980s, and mechanics such as checkpoints and power-ups made the managing of lives a more strategic experience for players over time. Lives give novice players more chances to learn the mechanics of a video game, while allowing more advanced players to take more risks.


Lives may have originated from the pinball mechanic of having a limited number 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.[2][4] Taito's classic arcade video game Space Invaders (1978) is usually credited with introducing multiple lives to video games.[5]

Later, checkpoints and saving allowed players that lost a life to continue the game at a specific point, rather than to start again. 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 arcade games.[4] As video game design advanced, set numbers of lives became more uncommon. In modern games, checkpoints or save points are far more prevalent. Some games still track the number of deaths, offering rewards for completing objectives below a certain amount, or merely for bragging rights.


It is common in action games for the player to have multiple lives and chances to earn more in-game. This way, a player can recover from making a disastrous mistake. Role-playing games and adventure games usually grant only one, but allow player-characters to reload a saved game.[6][7]

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, or experiment with different strategies to find one that works. 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.[2]

The problem that may arise 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 they are losing a life.[8]

Many older video games feature cheat codes that allow you to gain extra lives without earning them throughout gameplay. One example is Contra, which added the option to input the Konami code to get 30 extra lives.[9]

In modern times, some free-to-play games, such as the Candy Crush Saga trilogy, capitalize on the multiple life system to create an opportunity to earn more microtransactions. In such games, a life is lost when the player fails a level, but once all lives are lost, the player is prevented from continuing the game for a temporary amount of time, instead of receiving a game over that would entail total failure or require a new beginning, as lives will re-generate automatically after a number of minutes or hours. Players can either wait for lives, attempt alternate activities to recover lives (such as asking for friends online to donate lives), or purchase items that can fully replenish lives or grant unlimited lives for a limited time to continue playing immediately.[citation needed] This system is more commonly known as The Energy system, which is popular in Free to play games.

Extra lives

A 1-up Mushroom from the Super Mario series.

An extra life, also called a 1-up, is a video game item that increments the player character's number of lives.[10] Because there are no universal game rules, the form 1-ups take varies from game to game, but are often rare and difficult items to acquire. The use of the term "1-up" to designate an extra life first appeared in Super Mario Bros., and the term quickly caught on, seeing use in both home and arcade video games.

A number of games included an exploitable design flaw called a "1-up loop", in which it is possible to consistently acquire two or more 1-ups between a certain checkpoint and the following checkpoint. The player can thus acquire two 1-ups, make the character die, and restart from the first checkpoint with a net gain of one life; this procedure can then be repeated for as many lives as the player desires.[11]


  1. ^ Orlands, Kyle; Thomas, David; Steinberg, Scott Matthew (2007). The Videogame Style Guide and Reference Manual. p. 41. ISBN 978-1430313052. Retrieved 2014-12-10.[self-published source]
  2. ^ a b c Rouse III, Richard (2010-03-08). Game Design: Theory and Practice, Second Edition. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 60. ISBN 978-1449633455. Retrieved 2014-12-19.
  3. ^ "The Next Generation 1996 Lexicon A to Z: Chance". Next Generation. No. 15. Imagine Media. March 1996. p. 31.
  4. ^ a b Lecky-Thompson, Guy W. (2008-01-01). "life". Video Game Design Revealed. Cengage Learning. p. 49. ISBN 978-1584506072. Retrieved 2014-12-19.
  5. ^ Records, Guinness World (6 November 2014). Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition 2015 Ebook. Guinness World Records. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-908843-71-5.
  6. ^ Ernest, Adams (2010-04-07). Fundamentals of Game Design. New Riders. pp. 161, 168. ISBN 978-0132104753. Retrieved 2014-12-19.
  7. ^ Fullerton, Tracy (2008-02-08). Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. CRC Press. pp. 72, 73. ISBN 978-0240809748. Retrieved 2014-12-19.
  8. ^ Rogers, Scott (2014-04-11). Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design. John Wiley & Sons. p. 300. ISBN 978-1118877210. Retrieved 2014-12-19.
  9. ^ NES Cheats - Contra Wiki Guide - IGN, retrieved 2021-06-01
  10. ^ Schwartz, Steven A.; Schwartz, Janet (December 1993). The Parent's Guide to Video Games - Steven A. Schwartz, Janet Schwartz. ISBN 9781559584746. Retrieved 2011-10-07.
  11. ^ "The Next Generation 1996 Lexicon A to Z: One-up Loop". Next Generation. No. 15. Imagine Media. March 1996. p. 38.