The beginning and the ending of any story are pretty much the trickiest parts to write. While the beginning needs to draw viewers, readers, listeners or players deeply into the tale, the ending has to see them off with a sense of closure.
A happy ending is never a must, I feel. And some stories are even more interesting because their end is not a happy one, and maybe not even a nightmare one, but open to possibility.
I for one immerse myself very deeply in a story, and when it is good enough, it inspires me to spin it further. Not, because I did not like the ending, but because I feel there’s more that could be told.
Leaving things to the imagination is, I think, a good thing in storytelling. Of course, when it comes to endings, that’s hardly something you can afford. Because of the closure thing, remember?
With movies and tv series, books and audio you only get one shot, and the tale has to be so good that viewers, readers and listeners will turn the TV or console or whatever on again, flip the pages anew, press play once more, recommend your work to their friends and colleagues, in short, spread the word. With video games, things are a little different.
I am referring to that trend that has devs offering multiple endings depending on the playstyle or the decisions made at crucial points during the game. I think it is spoiling people. I think it makes them forget what stories are, and I believe it makes writers tend to make too many compromises.
Compromises in storytelling are never a good thing. They feel off. At least to me they do. If you want to give it to the audience the hard way, do it. Those who can’t stomach it will stop watching, reading or listening anyway. But for those who stick with you, you’ll have created a unique experience, one that will leave them in tears, laughing or just stunned, or shocked, or thoughtful.
So. Back to the endings.
Offering multiple endings in games is nothing new, of course. But I think it’s a bad sign when you start the game anew the first moment you get the chance even as the end credits of your first playthrough roll. I feel a story should get more appreciation than that. Don’t get me wrong. I do that too. Mostly, when the game’s started off promising but ended in a fizzle rather than a bang, emotionally.
Writing an uncompromising ending is a tough choice. But, thinking back on all the games you yourselves have played, what are the ones whose ending really stuck with you? I think I can count maybe five where the ending left me either actually crying or with a big, fat, happy smile on my face. Though they tend to make me cry more often than smile…
Here are my top three endings (no names, no spoilers, if you’ve played it, you’ll know what I mean. Or you won’t.)
1. In this together: At the end of the prologue, after you’ve just let all hell loose on a bunch of overzealous knights, you meet someone of the past, someone who should be dear to you but who unfortunately wishes you dead. You will meet this someone again at the very end, where it is revealed that he has been your ally all along. And what seemed like a positively mean smile at the very beginning is in reality one of triumph. Awesome. I found myself smiling along.
2. Found you: You have travelled the world to find this girl, moved mountains and slain hundreds to finally get to her, yet the moment victory is near she steps out of your world, maybe never to return. It is, in fact, up to you to encourage her, has been during the entire game. And if you’ve stood by her, always, she will come back to a happy ending. If not, your ending won’t be happy either. I got the happy one and I’m sure as hell not going to try for the sad one.
3. Liar: The two of you have had the worst of road trips, trying to make a difference in a world gone mad. Against all odds you have become a team, started working together, trusting each other, and, in the end, salvation is near. But one of you will betray your quest and, in doing so, leave the world in darkness. Out of petty selfishness. And you can’t change a thing about it, because you do not know he lied to you. I haven’t managed to play that game again. So there’s that risk, of course, but, actually, I will recommend it to anyone just because of this ending, so, there you go.