Death & Immersion
I like that Modern Warfare 2 gets me acclimated to death early, and it's clearly something the designers are okay with having in their experience, but whether I stay in the experience feels like a crapshoot.
A justification the designers may have for constant death (other than funneling me down a predictable path) is that it makes me feels the danger and waste of war that an actual soldier might feel in battle. In the Omaha Beach sequence in Medal of Honor my constant deaths gave me a sense of futility that gave me a stronger emotional connection to films depicting the same scene; that whether you were one of the few that survived or the many that died felt like the most sickeningly random of outcomes. Planned or not, I think there is merit to the idea of death enhancing immersion in this regard.
In Modern Warfare, however, the experience feels different. Typically, I have a difficult time reading the situation in the chaos and find myself trying random acts of progression, almost always met with death, until I can decipher what it was the designers intended for me to do. And being killed as I try random actions until landing on the one designers wanted does not instill the experience of war. Though elements like having to read information in the chaos of a situation might also reflect battle, there are a couple things that act against the experience as intended:
First, I don't have military training. A soldier might go through a lot of training to break that pesky sense of individualism and build the habit of taking orders.
Second and related, in games, I am trained to do the exact opposite. My play experiences assure my ultimate control over situations, and that my out-of-the-box choices will probably be supported and successful. It seems unwise to completely ignore the basic assumptions an average player might make about the game. A particularly bad situation that happens not-infrequently is that my gameplay habits succeed, allowing me to survive in a way the designers never intended, only to be met by artificial constraints in the environment created to safeguard against these breaks in the rules. Breaking understood rules of the game ("play it their way") and having the illusion falter upon doing so is tolerable, but playing under a misunderstanding of the rules ("Play it my way") and having the illusion falter after executing "a good idea" does a lot to ruin your connection.
But I think the experience of combat chaos and the importance of coordination can work. Indeed, when you focus on commands and perform your role within the squad -- the experience is immersive and exhilarating. So assuming you want players to have that, how can design help? Some ideas in the next installment...