Permadeath, short for permanent death, is a gaming term which describes the irreversible loss of a character upon their death. Permadeath is contrasted against games where a character's death is not permanent, for example, because the game allows the player to save and reload their progress after dying. The term "permadeth" is usually only used in games that are too long to complete in a single attempt, like adventure and role-playing games. While games like Contra technically force players to restart from the first stage if they get a game over, it is not called permadeath because the game can be completed fairly quickly. Recently, the term "permadeath" has been applied to a larger range of games, for example, Steam applies the permadeath tag to games like Risk of Rain and The Binding of Isaac, but both games can be completed in under an hour.
Games that use permadeath add an extra degree of loss when a character dies. Depending on the player, this can be seen as a positive or negative aspect. For players who enjoy higher levels of risk, permadeath is seen as a good thing because it makes every action becomes a gamble. However, for players who prefer games to be more light-hearted, permadeath is seen as a bad thing because it eliminates the hard work that went into building up a character.
For the most part, I do not like games that use permadeath for two reasons. First, I dislike games where the player is punished severely for mistakes. Second, I don't like having to repeat aspects of story-based games like adventure and role-playing games.
I maintain categories for games that feature permadeath or optional permadeath.
Since their beginning, most pen-and-paper role-playing games use permadeath. Even those games that contain rules for resurrecting characters still have rules for permanent death. For example, in the rules of Dungeons and Dragons, a character can only be resurrected if they haven't been dead for too long, their body still exists and can be touched (i.e., hasn't been disintegrated), and their soul is willing. Otherwise, they are permanently dead.
Most early role-playing video games used permadeath as a mechanic like Moria, Oubliette, Akalabeth: World of Doom, Rogue, and Wizardry I: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, but this mechanic slowly became less popular through the 1980s.
Despite permadeath decreasing dramatically from mainstream games by the 1990s, it has never really gone away. Occasionally, games are still produced which use permadeath like Darkest Dungeon and Realm of the Mad God. Also, many games are now incorporating optional permadeath modes like You Have to Win the Game.
In the early 1980s, permadeath in video games usually worked by marking a character as dead in the save game file or simply by deleting the save game file. In order to avoid permadeath in computer games, players could exit the game, make a copy of their save game file, and then start the game again. If they died, they could exit the game, overwrite the save game file with their copy, and restart the game. While the player would lose all the progress they made since the last copy, it would certainly be better than losing all progress for the entire character. While skirting a game mechanic is often seen as cheating in the gamer community, some games even encouraged this in the manual, like Alternate Reality: The City. It may have been this form of "cheating" that contributed to game developers eliminating permadeath is most games, since players were going to bypass it anyway.