As you start up a brand new game, you begin a journey into another world; a whole new dimension just waiting to be explored. You go through the usual rigmarole of finding out what your aims are, what the X button does, or what flimsy pretence has Nintendo concocted this time for yet another run-around of the Mushroom Kingdom.
Once these prerequisites are done, you’re off: shooting zombies, scoring goals, finding your princess is in another castle and wondering if Peach suffers from Stockholm Syndrome, and so forth. But, sadly, everything ends (except Minecraft) and developers are presented with the task of summarising your entire experience in an attempt to leave a lasting impression that lingers on your mind for many weeks after. But simply how does one achieve this?
THE VERY BEST ONES ARE NOT ONLY A WONDROUS SPECTACLE TO BEHOLD BUT ALSO PUSH YOUR GAMING SKILLS TO THE VERY LIMIT
The classic way to cap off a video game is with a good old-fashioned final boss fight. Arguably, the very best ones are not only a wondrous spectacle to behold but also push your gaming skills to the very limit. Whether it’s fighting Bowser to your last breath in space in Super Mario Galaxy or ascending to the top of the Citadel in Half-Life 2, a great boss fight provides the ‘wow moment’ you need to finish off an amazing video game.
However, more games today are telling us fantastic stories, which all need a satisfying ending to pay off your investment in the narrative. Naughty Dog are one such developer who have provided us with storylines worthy of blockbuster movies such as the Uncharted series and The Last of Us. Meanwhile, Telltale Games are a studio who manage to really manipulate your feelings after you make difficult in-game choices; The Wolf Among Us posed thought-provoking questions about morality in its final act whilst The Walking Dead left me on the verge of tears as credits scrolled away before my eyes.
Yet some smaller-scale narratives might catch you by surprise such as indie-delight, The Swapper, an ingenious puzzle-platformer that involves you swapping souls with clones of yourself. The title does a wonderfully understated job of drip-feeding the backstory of the hauntingly atmospheric abandoned space base you explore throughout the game before delivering a succinct and sudden ending that crept out of seemingly nowhere; the element of surprise helped make this a memorable ending.
Some video games provide you with multiple endings, usually determined by whether you choose a ‘good’ or ‘evil’ path in the story. Papers Please, a title that sees you working at border control of a fictional communist state, deftly handles this idea with twenty possible endings ranging from imprisonment to sabotaging the Government based on how hard you work and which opportunities you take. On the other hand, some titles like Mass Effect 3 saw severe backlash after the moral choices boiled down to ‘picking a favourite colour’, so be sure to properly incorporate such moral choices into your game or prepare for unforeseen consequences.
YOU BEGIN TO QUESTION WHAT AN ENDING ACTUALLY IS AS THE LAYERS OF META-NARRATIVE UNFOLD BEFORE YOUR EYES.
Perhaps the best exploration of video game endings is provided in The Stanley Parable, a first-person interactive fiction game that flirts with the idea of having a single, multiple , infinite and no endings at all. The entire premise is based around the choices that you, who takes on the role of Stanley, and then see how the narrator responds. After several hours exploring this ever-branching video game you begin to question what an ending actually is as the layers of meta-narrative unfold before your eyes.
But eventually it became far too much for me, and so I locked myself in the game’s rather infamous broom closet, declared my journey through this headache-inducing labyrinth at an end. Despite the narrator’s continual insistence that this wasn’t an ending, I felt quite satisfied rebelling all the instructions he proclaimed at me and the rules I was supposed to follow. But given how the developers had clearly decided to throw out the rulebook of storytelling since the very beginning, I felt justified in switching off my computer and putting this mad debate to an end. We’re done. The End. Finito. Completo. Kaput.