By ahoodedfigure 8 Comments
There Is no Perfect Ending + Siddown, fashionistos!
I really don't like a lot of the divisiveness in game conversation. I think avenues get cut off when people get haughty about what constitutes a game in general (as to their individual tastes, fine, but if people are going to start burning bridges that might come in handy later, it'll just take longer for people to rediscover them. This isn't the fashion industry; we don't need to pretend like it is).
Still, there are certain trends that bug me, and one of them is the perfect ending. If I play Heavy Rain, I'm pretty much predisposed to like it, but I'm pretty sure most people would say HR and Mass Effect 2 are only similar in one gameplay mechanic, that of the non-recoverable conversation choice.
What they have in common beyond that, though, something that is fundamental to the experience, and to me grating, is that you can do everything right. You can bring everyone home in ME2. You can get a shiny happy result in Heavy Rain. Having this hidden is fine, because it's a real delight to see everything pay off, but on the internet, nothing is hidden, so it has to be pretty clear that any perfect ending will likely be found pretty quickly unless it is on the easter egg level of hidden.
Perfection itself is not a big deal, because you have collection games that people can give up on if they don't want to push themselves, you have RPGs that reward hard work but don't make that work mandatory to pass. But with endings, you eventually run into them if you progress.
Challenge Gave Way to Entitlement
My idea of a sad death waiting at the end of the game is sort of a return to a retro outlook that I think is missing. You kept pressing on, despite the odds, building your score, before you were wiped out. The game beat you, but you wanted to get back into the cockpit again. As games started to reward players for their ability to excel, I think we started to lose sight of the fun, ultimately, that the challenging climb it took to get there can evoke.
I think this is in part a function of arcades giving way to home entertainment, because there wasn't a need to keep sucking quarters out of people's pockets if they had already bought the game. We'd have to wait for MMORPGs to take up the slack that the arcades left behind. Those games, again, have a tendency to try to push you to buy more, and therefore the endings never really feel complete, if they're there at all.
A guaranteed happy ending, compared to one that you really have to earn through a tough, possibly fatal game, feels too simplistic, like something you put in to keep kids from becoming too cynical too early. With the median gaming age not exactly the same as it was during the 20th century, I would think that this particular aspect should be willing to stretch out a bit more.
And I'm not talking about dissonant endings here, where the hero rests and then some monster screams and boom, credits. I'm talking about the multiple endings that many have come to expect winding up being too easy to predict which one is best. At the very least, if there's a super good ending, it must be earned.
The Shadow of the Best Ending
Watching others play Persona 4, it was pretty clear that there was an ideal ending that was casting a shadow on the game. The more the players paid attention to the rumors, the more it was spoiled, so they tried to ignore tips that would ruin it. Yet at the same time, there was a purported Huge Bummer Ending at the end of this book if they didn't do specific things right.
That tension of avoiding the bummer ending was cool, but because the better ending was known to a ton of people, it was hard to ignore. And it stands out, because it's the supposed RIGHT ending; the perfect ending where everything is supposedly happy. It might, for one, be more obscure if it was simply a good ending. If things were still messy. That has more gravity, even if there's a single ending, than the reward for everything going right.
There winds up being an unnecessary competitive aspect to a game with a perfect ending, where people can look down on those who didn't do the game correctly. I've got that a lot with the Mass Effect 2 crowd. I've seen an unusual blob of youtubers bash people who are merely SHOWING bad character ends, because, duh, you did it wrong, and I hear Heavy Rain has a similar level of perfectionism for its nice end.
Computers have an ability to hide things in numbers. They can add up permutations in a way that people can't usually manage. Why not use that to make the near-perfect ending a bit more obscure? Bury it so deeply in choices that it's not a foregone conclusion how to get there, encouraging replay.
Or better yet, make the ending match the tone, and if a perfect ending wouldn't fit the tone, then leave it out. I like endings that feel earned; in books or movies, too, it's not any different. If deus ex machina comes in and pulls the thing we're involved in out of the abyss at the last moment, it feels cheap. Games don't need to fall into that trap any more than other media.
And that's assuming there need be any ending at all.