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I am writing a game for which the user has a set amount of "lives". Each time he makes a mistake, he loses a life. When the "lives" counter reaches 0, the game is over.

What would be an appropriate icon to put next to the counter keeping track of the number of lives remaining?

[As an aside, is there an other word I could use for "lives"? I don't really like it.]

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closed as off topic by Benny Skogberg, Rahul May 20 '12 at 9:27

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hearts, stars, horseshoes, clovers and blue moons; pots of gold and rainbows, and me red balloons. – zzzzBov Oct 12 '11 at 20:58
What sort of game is this? Is the player a "person" in game or an abstract force (like in tetris)? – Ben Brocka Oct 12 '11 at 21:03
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The standard has usually been the head of the player character. This shows a clear relationship between the lives and the character; it's almost as if you literally have 5 of that character, and then when a character dies you now have 4. Often in shooters the lives icon will show a little version of your ship, for the same reason.

Hearts are a common more abstract icon, especially when there is no player character or the player character is not easily representable as a visual icon. Hearts should probably be avoided if you have a health meter in addition to lives, as hearts often indicate health as well as lives.

"Chances" and "tries" are less frequently used in place of "lives", especially in puzzle/ect games where "lives" are abstract as there is no actual player character that is dying. You can also call them continues, but that has a fairly defined meaning. When one uses a continue they generally expect to lose their score, a certain degree of progress (going back to the start of the world/level) and they may expect a game over when running out of continues.

The only other common term I've heard in place of "lives" is "guys." Not always applicable obviously and a bit too colloquial, unless your game trends silly in which case it can be a perfect fit.

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I agree with the head and/or heart symbols, but it might be better to display 5 head/heart slots and 3 of them highlighted to tell the user that 3 of 5 lives were left. – Burak Erdem Oct 13 '11 at 5:08
That works with a defined (and reasonable) maximum of lives, but I rarely see it except in games where you have something like 5 chances per level, always, then a game over. Lots of games either show a head per life and then use a (head)x10 combination that shows you how many lives are left if there are too many to fit on screen. – Ben Brocka Oct 13 '11 at 13:27
The only time I've ever heard "guy" being used is in the Futurama episode where life is like a video game. (Fry gets eaten by Zoidberg (I think) in the Pacman level but reappears: "It's okay, I had another guy!") – DisgruntledGoat Oct 17 '11 at 10:26
@DisgruntledGoat it's probably due to the disposable nature of characters in games with "lives," as I said in my answer it's as if you have n "guys" and you lose or gain them, it's not extremely common but at least here in America I've heard it said jocularly. – Ben Brocka Oct 17 '11 at 13:18

How about the heart. It's been used in video games since I can remember.

Alternatively you can just represent whatever the player is. If it's a car, use cars. If it's a person, use an outline of a person from the torso up.

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Usually an avatar that represents the player in some way. So if it's Super Mario it can be a little Mario figure, if it's a car racing game it can be a little car, etc.

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"[As an aside, is there an other word I could use for "lives"? I don't really like it.]"

Everyone knows what an "extra life" is. You don't see MS changing the save icon away from a blue floppy do you?

"lives" or "extra life" has been around since before Mario Bros. which, IMHO was the accelerant for the gaming industry (Mario Bros., not the terminology).

Wiki: Extra Life

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I prefer to call them Extra Mans just to confuse people – Ben Brocka Oct 12 '11 at 21:07
lolz. I always used "guys". "I only have 3 guys left." I never called it "lives". "guys" is an easier sound to produce than "lives" – jberger Oct 12 '11 at 21:14
as I started in my question "guys" is a fun way to refer to them in a jocular context. The games from (a comedy site) often actually do say "Mans" in place of "Lives" – Ben Brocka Oct 12 '11 at 21:29

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