Saturday, February 23, 2013

On the problem of video game endings (I'm looking at you Mass Effect 3)

(picture from here)

I know it’s coming....

While my first official blog post probably should not be about something that for the most part is done and over but since I know people are going to ask, I’d rather just give my two cents and be done with it. I love Mass Effect, it was my favorite franchise from this current generation of games, I love the style, the universe, the characters, how they go the extra steps to back up everything they do with detail, juicy details. Yes I was not fan of the ending to Mass Effect 3, it was a fumble right before the end zone. Did it leave a sour taste in my mouth when I finished the game? Yes, for a few weeks but you know what? I’m adult enough to admit that the other 99% of the game was amazing, it even made me cry at certains points. So much attention has been thrown at the ending that people forget that it’s about the ride, not the destination. Everything about Mass Effect 3 was top-notch, and the writing specifically was as good as it could get. Never before in a gaming series have almost all of the plot threads been tied up so in such a satisfying way with the only stumble being the ending.

If I do succeed in breaching the world of video game writing then eventually I will face the same challenges of nailing the ending and be scrutinized by the world over. It’s a common problem in the video game industry right now.  How can you wrap up what could have been hundreds of hours of devoted playtime in a way that will satisfy everybody? I can’t say, I don’t think there is anybody alive that knows the secret to it. As far as my observations go, an ending should not cater to the fan-base but should make sense within the universe the game designers have created and try not to pull a surprise twist that late into it. Just provide closure to the people that have stuck with you for so long, they don't have to end on a happy ending but they should feel satisfied. It’s one of the reasons I hate the “woke up from a dream” endings, what that says is that all that adventure and risk was entirely worthless as there was no tangible impact of anybody's actions. Writers of the world have mostly gotten over this trope but new variations have taken it’s place. Until we can get over this type of tying things up too cleany, and take more sensible risks, then people will start to feel bored by the same tired plot points. As for the ending of Mass Effect 3, it was a risk that did not pay off, did not leave most people satisfied, and left a sour note on a great trilogy. Does that ruin Mass Effect? HELL NO!

Spoilers after link! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED


  1. Wouldn't the ending not be important since it most likely would have come down to 3 endings any way. It would have been lame to just end it with a happy ending so the more 'artsy' angle is somewhat more appropriate. Plus with EA breathing down there necks and changing the ending after it was leaked, what else could anyone expect from Bioware. If Marco Polo was the cause of the reapers, would it still not have the same effect?

    Also, with Shepard being essentially an actor/actress saying what he/she feels like instead of what you sometimes thing they will say, isn't the star child angle kind of brilliant? Shepard either has to die or morph into the reaper commander or destroy technology which seems like the ultimate sacrifice for life itself. Shepard does nothing but what the player wants so when given a no win situation for the character, it's the ultimate connection between the player and the developer. You can not win unless you conform to the situation, adapt to the situation, no matter how stupid it is. And while the ending was silly, you still have a choice. They developer wants you to choose the ending you think is right which seems to me to be one of the most effective ways to look into the soul of the player. Not just as a gamer, but as a human. If you get mad and say, "This is crap," you have already lost. You can still argue that if that's the point, why wasn't it handled better? But if you do, you still lose.

    In summery, the ending is about who we will react as people with our knowledge rather then it actually being the end of the trilogy. The end is never written.

  2. Was trying to avoid the spoiler there my friend

  3. Not really a spoiler. It would look more odd then actual spoil material.