Last week, I made the plunge (puns) and gave into the temptation to download the incredibly silly time-waster known as Mola Mola. From numerous people I follow on Twitter, I kept seeing notifications about fish dying in tragic ways. I was curious, and decided to give it a try. It’s free – what could go wrong? The game is like a million other products that run on the mechanics of behavioral psychology and a variable-ratio reinforcement schedule. There is even an achievement for tapping on your mola 3,000 in one game, which is ridiculous. Did I complete this task? Of course I did! When you play the game, the goal is to grow a bigger fish, survive grander adventures, and unlock more and better food. Rinse (oh, puns), and repeat.
The unique thing about Mola Mola is that death, which happens frequently, suddenly – and quite tragically I might add – actually makes you stronger in the next play through. When your fish dies, the likelihood that it will die again from the same cause is reduced. For example, your fish could die sunbathing (just trust me). The first time you go on the sunbathing adventure, you have a 50% chance of surviving. When you die by sunbathing the first time, the chance of survival increases to 75%. When you die by sunbathing a second time, the survival rate increases to 95%. Also, when you die, you earn Mola Points (MP) that can be used to buy food and adventures – so death makes you stronger. If MP reminds you of experience points (XP), then you are correct; it’s exactly like XP.
Death is often seen as a negative outcome in gaming. Death in videogames often leads to the player starting over from a checkpoint to progress through a level again in the hopes of learning from their errors. Death in tabletop games often ends the adventure for the character that has died – unless he or she is brought back to life through some type of game mechanic or divine/DM intervention. Mola Mola takes the outcome of death and turns it into something that is rewarding and makes it easier to advance further in future games. Below, I explore how Mola Mola-style death could be used to inject more life into your next roleplaying game session.