Whenever a game with a “controversial” ending comes out, I almost always see tweets or posts from players lamenting a common thread saying: “they play video games to feel good, not to make them depressed.” I thought about this for a while, and I realized how players have been used to winning or a victorious end goal since the early days of video gaming.
In Pac-Man, you simply had to eat all the pac-dots to win a level. It’s a victory in the sense that you beat the bad guys by either eating them or outsmarting their attempts to kill you. We have games like Mario where you saved Princess Peach by the end by defeating the bad guy Bowser. Even with games like Galaga, there is still a sense of victory by amassing the highest number of points even if you lost all your fighters. Essentially, we feel good because we are at the top or we saved a city. As gamers, we are used to the whole idea of ‘winning’ by triumphing through obstacles and ultimately a boss fight in the end. Most games want you to save the day or the girl, but what if we can’t? Is that okay? Or do we always have to be the hero in the end?
Note: Spoilers for The Last of Us and Mass Effect 3 will be mentioned here. Proceed at your own caution.
I’m writing about this because I’m confused about why the argument “games have to be fun” still exists. I mean it’s not an entirely fresh concept, since I have seen a lot of video games that didn’t have happy endings. However, most of them were sad because someone died but in the end it was a sacrifice made for the greater good. However, a recent game called ‘The Last of Us’ by Naughty Dog garnered some controversy for their ending. I also had people tell me that the game made them feel depressed, which is not what they wanted out of a video game. That was the same reaction that I got from players when they played Mass Effect 3 during the ending. A lot people envisioned Shepard saving the galaxy along with a cut scene that shows him with his love interest and Normandy crew celebrating.
In the video game The Last of Us, some people were upset with the fact that the protagonist Joel chose to sacrifice humanity’s best chance for a cure to save Ellie’s life regardless if that was what she might have wanted. He even lied to her when she confronted him about it. However, I’m not going to debate about the moral issues of this because that’s for another discussion. Anyway, I guess this might be different because the player didn’t do anything ‘heroic’ by general definition. Unlike Mass Effect 3, this ending wasn’t criticized because of the numerous plot holes fans mentioned. This game really had a solid ending, but it just wan’t the type players were expecting to have. In fact, it was revealed that test audiences and some of the staff from Naughty Dog didn’t react well to it either. I was actually expecting a typical Hollywood ending where both of them lives or they could have gone the bittersweet route and let one of them died. In both variations, they were able to produce a vaccine because that’s what the game was about right? But no, they both survived in a whole different scenario. In my opinion, I thought they made a bold move that made The Last of Us a truly enjoyable and unique experience.
I always thought the video games were great mediums of storytelling like films, novels and television shows but more on the interactive side. These other mediums all have their share of tragedies like in Shakespeare’s works or in Greek mythology. Who can forget films like The Mist? I love that ending regardless of what other might say. Requiem for a Dream’s ending shocked me at first because there was no happy ending for the characters and it was the first time I’ve personally seen something like that. Yet, I feel that people are more acceptable of tragic endings in these mediums more than in video games. I think it’s probably because we are used to being heroes or reaching an end goal in video games. If you think about it, I guess it can be disappointing to have a poignant conclusion if you’ve spent your time and effort trying to beat a game. Films, television shows, and books don’t seem to require the same level of immersion.
I’ve also heard people say that they use video games as a form of escape. That’s not really a unique thing, because people say that about other mediums as well. Maybe it’s just people who don’t like sad things in general who think video games are always meant to have happy endings. However, I personally find it a good thing if creators don’t give audiences exactly what they want. They only give what is needed. I think this evolves video games into a whole another level because it breaks the mentality that video games are simply for simplistic and brief sources of entertainment. Pushing the envelope just like what Naughty Dog did helps elevate video games into an art form expression that is beyond a simple toy.
What do you think?