In this week’s Split Screen, Marcus Mac Dhonnagáin and Sean Knight ask whether endings are important in themselves or just part of the experience
Marcus: So Sean, it seems to me that 2012 and 2013 were both years where there was a big discussion on the endings in video games. Last year people were outraged by Mass Effect 3’s ending, while people this year seem to be perplexed by Bioshock Infinite’s ending. How important do you think endings are in video game narratives?
Sean: Endings are very important; it’s what makes the journey worthwhile. After all, we are investing a significant amount of time on a game and, if the story and gameplay are great, then we want an ending that will match what we have experienced along the way. Mass Effect is a good example of this. Here you had a trilogy and, when it got to the grand finale a lot of people were disappointed. It wasn’t what they expected after having played three games.
Endings are what make a game memorable. And this doesn’t just apply to video games but to literature, TV, and movies. So I’m curious, what is the most memorable video game ending you have experienced in the last ten years?
Marcus: I do agree that endings are important, but I think that perhaps too much emphasis is placed on them. True, many people were disappointed by the ending of Mass Effect, and I can understand why. However, I also think that they placed a disproportionate amount of emphasis on how important the ending actually was. To me, the journey between the start and finish of a game is what’s the most important. The 30 hours I spent with Mass Effect 3 was what mattered most to me, and though the ending was a part of that, it only made up a fraction of its total.
One of my favorite video game endings in the last ten years is definitely Red Dead Redemption. I think its conclusion perfectly summed up the themes that it had raised throughout its entirety. Yet the ending worked so well because of everything I had encountered before reaching it.
How do you feel about the importance of the ending versus the importance of the journey?
Sean: For me, the journey and the ending are equally important. While our medium is more interactive than reading a book, or watching something on the screen, that doesn’t change how important an ending is. If I’ve built up a relationship with characters in a game then I want to see how it all ends. For better or for worse. A bad ending cheapens the journey for me and, when I have that experience, I have to ask myself, “What was the point of playing this game?”
A great ending is what compels me to replay a game whereas a bad ending means I play it once and that’s it. It doesn’t matter how great the journey was, if I didn’t like the ending then I see no point in playing the game again.
Marcus: I can understand that! A bad ending can take away from a great experience. There are some games that I’ve come away and been disappointed by the finale, but more often than not, I can still appreciate everything that brought me there. To me, the ending is one of the many moments that comprises of my overall experience with a game. Take Batman: Arkham Asylum. I consider the ending to be somewhat weak. The final fight against the Joker doesn’t really fit well with what the rest of the game does so well. However, I still love going back to replay the game, because everything before the ending is fantastic.
Another example would be The Saboteur. The ending is rubbish, but every now and again, I’ll play The Saboteur again, because what I love about it has nothing to do with its conclusion.
That’s why I don’t really hate the Mass Effect 3 ending. Though it doesn’t offer the closure I might have expected, when I think back about the time I spent with it, I only have happy memories. There are so many great moments in it that the ending didn’t cheapen or dilute for me.
Sean: I can respect that. Of course, for the most part, we are talking about games with one ending. But what about games with multiple endings? Chrono Trigger instantly comes to my mind when I think of games with multiple endings. A fantastic game that, because of the various finales, enticed me to go back and replay it. Then there is Silent Hill and Dragon Age: Origins that also provided me with the excuse to replay the game to see what the other endings were or to just get the best ending if I didn’t get it the first time around.
What is your opinion on games with multiple endings? Does such a feature lessen the impact of playing the game to its end?
Marcus: I do like multiple endings, especially since they’re often achieved through how players make certain choices, or whether they adopt a certain gameplay style. Last year, Dishonored had a great system in place that gave users a different ending depending on how violent they were while playing. If you were more stealth-oriented, then you might have had a different ending compared to someone who was more liberal when it came to harming others.
However, there are games that don’t really do multiple endings justice. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game whose endings don’t really differentiate one from the one other. The biggest problem with its ending is that it doesn’t reflect on the actions I committed throughout it, but instead makes me choose which one I want. It didn’t really take my overall actions into account. I hope that developers adopt Dishonored’s method of creating multiple endings going forward.
Follow Marcus on Twitter: @M_M_DH
Follow Sean on Twitter: @SeanDKnight