Every story has an end. Whether it is the last page of a book or the final frame of a film, everything ends. There are many good endings, but the best involves the death of the protagonist. History and literature offer many examples, the Alamo, Leonidus and his men, Custer, Hamlet. The list is endless.
These men, whether hero or villian, joined our cultural consciousness with their death. Leonidus disappears into the depths of history without his heroic, but futile last stand. Hamlet degenerates to a movie-of-the-week revenge plot without the final scene of carnage. Death is the ultimate act of theater.
RPG games are dramatic theater. The DM creates a plot and the PCs inhabit it with fascinating characters. The PCs live in this fantastic world doing the impossible and living the drama they create. Occasionally, drama demands a death. I am not talking about a bad dice roll that kills a PC in some random encounter. No, I speak of the heroic death. A final death (no raise dead) that fills the other players with joy and grief. Joy at the victory your sacrifice assured, grief at the terrible price paid.
It is my observation that modern gamers, ie those gamers who spent more time playing video games than tabletop games, are far less likely to make this sacrifice. I even think I know why. It is very difficult to role-play in a video game, at least as I have come to understand the term. The focus becomes the acquisition of power, wealth and skills to survive the next encounter. The player invests his time and effort in the character sheet and not the character.
After many hours invested in a “World of Warcraft” or “Elder Scrolls,” character no rational human being would just let him die for “dramatic reasons.” In those games, there are no dramatic reasons, only mechanical ones (ie a dragon eats you.)
I fear that many players now play tabletop games as though their PCs represented 80 hours of playing time, instead of a living part of the plot.
Should the plot ask it of you, do not fear sacrificing your PC in a dramatic fashion. Think of it as an opportunity to put your mark on that campaign. Make another PC and explore a different aspect of the world your party inhabits.
Death is not the end, only a new beginning for the RPG player.