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Proposed Idea : The harsher a death penalty is in a game, the more likely players are to become better players.
Death penalties fall into a couple categories.
Corpse Run - the player starts some distance away from where they died, and they must run to their corpse through the world, unable to interact with the world or other players until the recover their corpse. This is a negative punishment. In mundane terms, the player is in time out, and the game play they want to engage in is removed for a period of time.
XP Penalty - the player loses some amount of experience, skill points or other progression resource that they must recover in order to have the power level the had prior to dying. This is a negative punishment. Something the player had is being removed and they must recover it.
Gear or Monetary Penalty - the player must pay an amount of in game money to recover from their in game death, usually involving damage to their gear. Like the XP Penalty, this is a negative punishment.
Keep in mind that in this context, negative simply means removing something, it is not "bad".
Now, does the idea of presenting punishments to the player support the idea of the death penalty encouraging better game play? A punishment is delivered in an effort to stop a particular behavior, so the idea that punishing the player when they engage in poor game play will encourage the player to stop engaging in poor game play seems sound. What specific behaviors are behaviors that the player should not engage in? Fighting against specific players, or at specific times or places? There is no clear direction given, and the association the player learns from the experience of a death penalty is further muddied by the randomness of the game play itself. If it is not clear why the player died, then it will not be clear why they were punished in the first place. Furthermore, the longer it takes for the death penalty to be relieved, the harder it will be for players to associate the death penalty with a specific event or behavior. If the death penalty lasts long enough, no association will be made. The punishment, instead of being directed at a specific behavior ends up being directed simply at the player for playing the game in general. From this perspective, the death penalty is a disincentive to play the game, not to avoid a particular behavior.
If a developer truly wishes players to "play better", what can they do? For one, developers can keep in mind the purpose of the death penalty. Giving players something to avoid is not a bad thing, but the punishment, if it is delivered must be immediate to be most effective. The longer a death penalty takes to release the player back into normal game play, the less of an association the death penalty will have with the player's behavior. A red screen, a loud noise or some sort of harsh imagery or words are enough to create an association. This may sound silly or trivial, but if the point is to change behavior, something immediate will be more effective than something that takes thirty seconds, a minute or an hour. The reason for the death penalty, and the behavior that the developer wants to change must also be made clear. If the player fought a MOB or player that is too powerful for them, this must somehow be communicated to the player, or they will not associate that behavior with their punishment. This is probably the most difficult aspect of death penalties and player behavior. Developers are attempting to do this with the name plates above MOB and player heads through color coding or adding sigils to the name plates. Finally, players must return to game play quickly. Being removed from game play reduces the amount of time players have to learn and practice what they are doing. A coach does not remove players from practice to make them better players, the coach will make players practice more to make them better players.
In short, death penalties in video games seem to be setup in a manner that is at direct odds with making players better at playing the games they are playing. There could be contextual reasons for this. A death penalty makes sense within the context of the game and so takes precedence over the goal of making players better at playing the game. It could also be that developers do not have the goal of making players better at playing the games they develop. In this case, developers are not the players' coach, but the players' antagonist. The player has already chosen to overcome the challenges set by the developer, so it should not be surprising that the developer has added additional challenges in the form of a death penalty. Finally, developers may have a financial incentive to add death penalties, especially in the case of MMORPGs where the game play spans months, and the longer the player plays the game, the more money they are likely to spend. A small death penalty expressed as time can add up over the course of a player's time in a game. That time can add up financially in a subscription game and in a game where the player can purchase items that lessen the death penalty or lessen the likelihood of a death penalty.
Why do some players insist that death penalties make better players? It is possible that some players, when presented with the challenge of a death penalty become better players. This would make sense if the outcome was the player trying harder, or putting more effort or focus into playing. Players are more likely to perform better when they are focusing more attention to the act of playing the game. The decision making process, however, results from the player learning, and in video games many of the results of those decisions depend on a random number generator. If a player can make good decisions, and still end up on the receiving end of a death penalty, then it doesn't seem likely that the death penalty will always direct the player away from poor decisions. So in this case, why do players persist with the idea that a death penalty makes better players?
If you've read through this wall of text, congratulations. You have earned one internet. You can earn another internet by letting me know what you think. Do you think I'm right? (ha ha) Do you think I'm wrong? (most likely option) But most important, what do you think?
Edit : Changed the title.
I can not remember winning or losing a single debate on the internet.