Probably the most controversial death in a computer game, the death of Aerith Gainsborough in Final Fantasy VII has become one of the most seminal moments in videogame history.
The fact that it caused such an uproar is interesting, to me at least. Probably because we believe that video games work to a very well-defined framework. We dont expect them to obey a moral code, but we expect them to be fair, in some sense. Therefore, when the story kills off a team member you had spent 70 hours training up, it breaks the frame. Cue grown men crying into their joypads.
An additional gripe is that Aerith's death pretty much removes the team's ability to use the 'Phoenix Down' magic option. Therefore, characters can no longer be revived if they get mortally wounded. All-in-all, its a big bony slap in the face from the grim reaper.
Is the reaction is a genuine outpouring of grief, or just a feeling of being swindled and pissed off? Maybe the reactions aren't so different anyhow.
Here's an extract from the wikipedia page:
In early planning stages of Final Fantasy VII, Aerith was to be one of only three protagonists. Before this, Yoshinori Kitase and Tetsuya Nomura decided that one character would have to die, and after creating the three characters, decided on Aerith after a long debate. Nomura stated in a 2005 EGM interview: "Cloud's the main character, so you can't really kill him. And Barrett... [sic] well, that's maybe too obvious". This was not changed after other protagonists were created.
While designing Final Fantasy VII, Tetsuya Nomura was frustrated with the "perennial dramatic cliché" where the protagonist must dramatically sacrifice herself to express her love for someone. He found that this appeared in both films and video games from North America and Japan. "Is it right to set such an example to people?" Director and scenario writer Yoshinori Kitase concludes:
"In the real world things are very different. You just need to look around you. Nobody wants to die that way. People die of disease and accident. Death comes suddenly and there is no notion of good or bad. It leaves, not a dramatic feeling but great emptiness. When you lose someone you loved very much you feel this big empty space and think, 'If I had known this was coming I would have done things differently.' These are the feelings I wanted to arouse in the players with Aerith's death relatively early in the game. Feelings of reality and not Hollywood." —Yoshinori Kitase, Edge Magazine, May 2003
While reflecting on the game, Tetsuya Nomura claims that "Death should be something sudden and unexpected, and Aeris' death seemed more natural and realistic," and "When I reflect on Final Fantasy VII, the fact that fans were so offended by her sudden death probably means that we were successful with her character. If fans had simply accepted her death, that would have meant she wasn't an effective character." Rumors have circulated that Aerith can be resurrected in Final Fantasy VII or that the possibility was removed in development. "The world was expecting us to bring her back to life, as this is the classic convention". A lengthy petition asking for Aerith's revival by Japanese players was sent to scenario writer Yoshinori Kitase. However, Kitase states that "there are many meanings in Aerith's death and that could never happen"