"One problem is that games don't provide real opportunities for heroism, because there are no opporunties for sacrifice. Throwing yourself at an enemy in an act that guarantees your death is meaningless, because you're only "wasting" a few minutes of your time. This is one of the reasons I don't ignore permadeath arguments, because I think it gives people more opportunities for heroism and truly noble acts."
I've written before about heroism and sacrifice in games, but it's interesting to consider specific sacrifices being directly designed as possibilities.
For example, in a permadeath game, it would be possible to offer players specific skills/abilities which would be powerful enough to save one's teammates (or other entities) but ensure permanent death to that character. In other words... a true sacrifice.
Our whole group is near death and a new horde of enemies is just arriving to finish us off, so I call upon my Divine Charge ability... which I earned through a quest or some other trial. My character sprints toward the horde as I'm gradually surrounded in a blinding white light. When I hit the horde, there's an explosive flash of light and smoke. As the smoke clears, the enemies lie dead in a circle, and my character is gone forever. My groupmates, on the other hand, are saved.
How can sacrifice be designed for in a game without permadeath?
I'll try to come back with some ideas later, but I want to throw that question out there for now.
edit: Cameron's comment reminded me an example of non-permadeath sacrifice I proposed in a previous post:
"You've discovered an epic weapon which belonged to a great hero of the city Stoneridge. By removing the weapon from his bones, you have upset the hero's spirit. As long as the weapon is parted from the hero's tomb, his angry spirit haunts the city. Stoneridge citizens are angry with you for dishonoring their hero and causing the haunting. Do you return the weapon, despite its great stats? Do you abandon the town, ignoring the NPCs' troubles and the complaints of other players that some of the Stoneridge merchants are charging higher prices to people of your faction and/or guild? Do you seek out the ghost, and make a compact that allows you to keep the weapon if you'll use it to follow in the hero's footsteps as long as you possess it (such as keeping the city's surrounding population of bandits down to a particular level, perhaps with the aid of friends)?"
Does this scenario represent a player's opportunity for true sacrifice?