On Endings

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First of all, let me get this out of the way.This might contain some SPOILERS. And SPOILERS, and by the way SPOILERS so don’t blame me if you read this and there are SPOILERS because I explicitly warned you about all the SPOILERS that are SPOILERS in this SPOILERS post.

…SPOILERS.

Anyway. So I want to talk to you about a game I played recently. This game was one in which there were a great many choices that you, as the player, could make in regards to how situations were handled. And a lot of those didn’t come down to clear right or wrong, and sometimes, the true repercussions of the choices you made weren’t readily obvious until down the line a bit. And that framework of choice persisted throughout the game, all the way up until the end. At the end, the player is presented with a set of choices that boils down to a set of ideologies and points of view that have each been represented by various characters in the game, and, no matter what your choices were up to that point, what happens in the end is determined solely by the push of one of a set of buttons. And after those buttons are pressed, the ending sequence that follows isn’t really changed /that/ much by the ideology that the player settles on. In fact, I walked away from that ending thinking that no matter what, Adam Jensen didn’t really have /all/ that much of a choice at all.

Oh. I’m sorry. Did you think I was talking about Mass Effect 3?

I guess when you put it that way….

Or was I talking about Bioshock, where you’re given a clear ‘good’ or ‘evil’ choice, each with its own risk and reward, but no matter which of those you pick, the events in the game and people’s attitudes toward the main character don’t really change at all. You’re still presented with the same out-of-place final boss and are shown a couple minute long ending sequence.

In fact, let me ask you a question. What was the last ending to a video game that you were /truly/ satisfied with? An ending that hit on every character and showed how things wrapped up, all in all, pretty good for most of them, despite all indications throughout the game that this would not happen? I’ll give you a hint, there /IS/ a correct answer to this question, and that answer is Final Fantasy 6. What was the last ending segment to a video game that was truly and completely a product of the choices that you, personally, as a player, made? There’s a correct answer to that one too, and it’s Devil Survivor. I’m not even giving my favorite game of all time, Chrono Trigger, a pass on this one, because the series didn’t end there, and Chrono Cross dropped more balls than… well… a thing that drops a lot of balls.

So basically, what I’m saying is that all the games I presented here were really good games, and games that I had a /blast/ with. Games that were emotionally charged, games in which I actually agonized over a few decisions and made myself live with the outcomes rather than reset the game because THAT’S HOW LIFE WORKS. And a game in which the /path/ to the ending is emotionally engaging (hey, don’t the BioWare guys say that a lot?) is a success in my book. Because even if the ending can’t really be changed all that much, the way you /approach/ the ending does. And to me, that elevates games over television and movies right there.

Endings are, by their very nature, disappointing. They are the point at which the story ENDS. There’s no more story after that. And so if you’ve been invested in the characters and the plot up until then, the realization that after the ending there is nothing more to see or do might cause one to reflect poorly on that ending. Maybe it could have been longer. More drawn out. Shown exactly what happens to side characters A and B, whether they got married and had kids C, D, and E, and what happened to those kids down the line. Or maybe it could have been shorter, or more profound, or less profound, or more interpretive, less artsy, or half a million other things that makes that last five minutes of your game, book, or movie less than ideal.

I’m not saying that I’m not guilty of it. If I could change the ending of the last Matrix movie, I would. If I could somehow find out what the crappity crap actually /happened/ to Starbuck, I’d do that too. If I could remove the entire church scene from the last episode of Lost, I’d be all over that shit. And don’t even get me STARTED on what happens at the end of Angel. But you know what? I also think those endings, for better or worse, were adequate solely because no matter what happened there, not everyone, and probably closer to no one, would be happy.People say that it was EA’s fault that Bioware’s ME3 ending was, in the opinion of a lot of knee-jerk internet reactions, sub-par. And maybe that’s true. EA is certainly a popular Big Bad these days. But can you really say that the ending to Fallout 3 was any more satisfying? And that was made by a totally different company with a totally different release timeframe. Same with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and that game was pushed back. And I loved the shit out of all three of these games. I’d play them again, for no other reason than to make different choices and see how different the MIDDLE of the game is, even though I KNOW that the ENDING is going to be the exact same. Because I don’t play games for endings. Endings are when the game is over, and take up five minutes of my time.

It’s /playing/ the game that’s fun for me. Those 20, 40, or 60 hours (Or hell, if it’s a Shin Megami Tensei game, a hundred and goddamn twenty) that make the game worth it for me. And if the ending isn’t as good as I would have written it, or as good as someone else would have written it, well, that’s less than 1% of the overall experience.

And that’s my opinion. So mleh.

[This article is reposted with my permission at Attack Initiative.]

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