My Only Friend, The End
How Do Videogames Get Endings Right?
by Dillan-James Carter
Courtesy of Ansimuz via ansimuz.com
With graduation fast approaching, all I can think about is the end. Endings never conjure anything positive in my mind: relationships, deaths and Game of Thrones all add to make the concept all the more crushing. The only joy endings bring me is within the videogame – the lazy man’s Kilimanjaro.
Nothing feels as gratifying as defeating the final boss, escaping the underwater city or finally avenging your murdered family. Though the medium is dogged with god-awful endings (Mass Effect 3 is so god-awful that a DLC was added to quell the raging fans), the best endings are forever memorable and dear to our hearts. How then do video games manage the impossible in this golden age of disappointment?
An obvious characteristic of the ending is that it must be rewarding and that the result is earned through the effort of the player and the story itself. If through the player, the game must be challenging and require the player’s development of skill; genres include roguelikes and RPG’s such as Dark Souls. These have the rage-quitting edge which makes the game all the more satisfying when you finally defeat the ‘Big Bad’ or stop the unending cycle which constantly reanimates you in a dungeon. In these cases, the persistence of the player is rewarded, leading to bragging rights to a nigh-on-impossible game; though nothing will get back those countless hours – we can only hope it was worth it.
Although the ending needs a challenge if the story itself is terrible, you’ll probably never reach it. The story sets the groundwork to why you’re going to an asylum in the middle of the night or travelling across mushroom-zombie infected America. It also forms the attachments to the characters you meet and begin to care about. The Telltale Walking Dead franchise is a perfect example of this; the development of the Lee/Clementine bond is a wonderful story and makes you feel the happiness and pain the characters encounter along the way.
A certain level of independence can also significantly influence the attachment of the player to the story, allowing them to affect the environment around them. Bioware and Bethesda games are the pinnacles of free-will gaming which brings the player closer to the world they are exploring and dealing with the ‘real’ consequences of their decisions. Mass Effect 2, in contrast to its sequel, had the perfect combination of all three aspects: excellent story, challenging missions and a high level of choices which affects the lives of your crew and the fate of the galaxy.
In many ways, these points act as an allegory for the perfect end to university life. If the journey has been challenging, the lectures and people interesting, and you got to achieve the things you wanted to while here, the awkward handshake and the ribbon-wrapped degree is the perfect send-off – if not just a tad anticlimactic.