It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t feel the need to question videogames. Did we ever consider the motives of those two pong paddles, who endlessly batted their little ball to one another? Or just why those invaders came from space? What exactly did they want? And what exactly was Pac-man’s beef with Pinky, Inky, Blinky and Clyde? But today, story is arguably the crux of the multibillion dollar games industry and we don’t have that luxury any more.
Videogames are an incredibly story telling device, as well as being engaging, much longer than a film and more immediately visual than a book, games demand agency from the player.
In games today the player’s choices affect the game’s outcome, whether it is immediately clear- killing this person silently will avoid raising the alarm and a harder fight. Or the consequences could be more drawn out – if I help this character now I might be able to rely on their help later on.
Often games make a point of choices like the second example. Games like Mass Effect even go as far as carrying over the decisions you’ve made in one game to the sequel, meaning that you have to live, or not, with the choices you chose. This usually manifests in the form of a moral choice or alignment scale, the good, the bad and the ugly. What this generally leads to is multiple endings of a game which is based on the choices you’ve made throughout your journey.
At its barest these choices are shown in a last minute end scene, the Fallout series summarises the player’s action in a slide show style guilt trip (I’m sorry I never saved Rex’s brain, leave it be!). While at its most elaborate the choices you make determine the entire final act of your game, see Mass Effect 3 for an example of this; every choice you’ve made in the previous two games accumulates and changes what could, will and won’t happen. Sometimes your actions will affect the game play, certain characters or groups avoiding or hating you, or more security in an area where you’ve killed more people, see Fable and Dishonored in regards to this.
What these multiple endings do, as well as making a player want to play the game again to see what they’ve missed out on, is reward the player for their dedication and time. If you think, even for those few moments during that slide show, that your conscious actions have changed something, or affected someone, you feel like you’ve gotten that little bit more out of a game. It also makes that experience seem special and particular to you, you can go and tell your friends exactly what happened and why your choices were much better than theirs.
But multiple endings are only really effective if it feels like everything, or at least the majority of the things you’ve done, have affected the outcome that you as a player received. It’s this point that many games recently have seemed to miss. Deus Ex Human revolution showed so much promise, allowing you to take so many different avenues, but all this only results in a multiple choice ending that then determined what scene you’d end on. This just seems lazy, and a complete waste of potential.
It’s not just missed potential that has me confused, multiple endings for the sake of multiple endings have also got my metaphorical goat.
The GTA series is, undeniably, a lot of fun and they do this with great stories and characters as well as mindless violence. But something bugged me about the ending to the most recent instalment. Up until the final mission you play as three separate characters, the lives and adventures of whom intertwine throughout. Now just before the final mission you’re given control of one character in particular and have to make a choice.
You are to kill one of your new friends, kill the other, or try and take on what is effectively an army together.
This choice just didn’t make any sense to me. Throughout the story you see the trio argue then make good again. I never had any sense of pressure to pick any other option than the ‘save everyone, fight an army”. There were no choices I could have made during my story to influence any of the other choices, the game told me the characters’ relationships. We were a team, a unit, no way I was going to kill one of them.
Anyway, I picked my choice, then out of curiosity I ran back and played the other two. Those other two were so short and unfulfilled; they seemed tacked on for the sake of replay value.
So to round off, multiple endings can be a great addition, if there’s need for it. A player will feel much closer to their character and their journey if their choices are acknowledged. But if it comes out of nowhere in the form of a binary choice, or seems contrived or too heavily signposted to be natural, all you feel is a hollow ‘huh.’