Bad Endings

Have you ever had a campaign end properly—I mean properly, like it ended with a climax and not because the group disbanded or lost interest? It happens rarely, I understand that. I mentioned recently my own Amethyst game finally ran its last session after eleven years. It did so with a note of finality to it. There was nothing else to be told. It was also what I think can be called a “happy ending”. It was slightly melancholic because it was the last foray into that world, but the characters within the story had brighter days ahead than behind. I may have philosophical issues with “happily ever after” but I can at least end the story on, “content ever after.”

This was not always the case. With Amethyst, the game was actually broken up into three difference campaigns, each with its own set of characters. Two of those campaigns ended well while the middle one not so much. In fact, it ended with a total party kill…a scripted total party kill no less. I mitigated the severity of this imposed event by the fact the players made two sets of characters. Each set was played on alternating weeks with events intercutting between the two. It was an experiment which would work for a novel but not entirely for a game. It was one set of these characters which died, still leaving another set to survive to a happy ending. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.

I’d like to know what manner of devilry possesses certain writers to end their epic stories on a depressing note. Even Stephen King had to (somewhat) apologize for it at the end his Dark Tower series. When an epic story or series ends, why do so many writers feel compelled to destroy their worlds? I worded the previous statement specifically because my last game offered the impression I was doing that very thing, only to pull the rug out during the last few sessions. I would never want to have readers invest in my series, follow my characters for years, only to be sacked a foot before the end zone.

And yes, I just finished Bioshock Infinite.

Without requiring a spoiler warning, I’ll say in the fastest review I’ll ever offer that it’s a well-scripted story hiding inside an amazing setting overly marred with throwbacks from its namesake prequel which then abandons many of the ideas offered in the first few hours in exchange for new ones which are neither transitioned properly nor fully explained. It’s actually a really good game which ends on a note open to multiple interpretations. I have mine and have read others. One thing we’re in agreement however, is that even with the most optimistic presumptions, the ending is always depressing. This is becoming part and parcel for many long running stories. It’s not like I require a Princess Bride ending with only the best bits held for oration, but must every saga end with the cataclysmic destruction of everything you’ve grown to love and accept? I know some people that actually believe it would’ve been better if Harry Potter had died or that Frodo had fallen into Mount Doom. Why would I want to read that? That was the flawed thinking behind Mass Effect 3. You’ve got one or two writers convinced that for the sake of artistic integrity, they need to present a depressing final act, even if said act flies in the face of both logic and the good will earned by millions of fans.

Last year also saw the end of first Assassin’s Creed “trilogy”. Did it have a happy ending? Of course not. I remember the first Drakengard game, with its five endings, each subsequent unlocked resolution proving more depressing than the previous. The end of inFamous, despite having two endings, lacks a happy resolution to either. In fact, upon reflection, I don’t recall a single Final Fantasy that didn’t leave me unsatisfied by the end. Moving away from games, can you recall your feelings (other than anger) at the last episode of Lost? How about Battlestar Gallactica, because I know all I wanted to do after that was have a shower.

What a lot of writers don’t realize is that for a vast number of people, how you end a story is what most people will carry with them for hours, days or even weeks afterward. Fans are already despondent about seeing a beloved franchise end; you don’t have to sully the experience with an unnecessarily gloomy ending.

Chris Dias

Chris Tavares Dias is the literary equivalent of that crusty burnt cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot. Some people claim he looks like Mathew Perry. He would like that to be true. It's not. In 2010, Chris co-wrote and created Amethyst Foundations, a 4th Edition setting based on the previous version under 3.5. It has received critical acclaim for integrating science fiction into classical fantasy. In August of this year, Chris was last seen staring at a dead raven that had fallen beside his car. Two months later, his watch and notepad were found in the stomach of a basking shark that had washed ashore off the coast of Florida.

3 thoughts on “Bad Endings

  • April 10, 2013 at 1:04 am
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    You could look at novels like 1984 (Orwell) or Brave New World (Huxley) and they always end with amazing (but definitely heart wrenchingly depressing) endings. And when they don’t end in good endings, like in the book Anthem (Rand) they end up looking like they’re propagating something. I was talking to my professor recently about the ending of video games and how they end in a way that teaches or tries to prove to us that violence is the answer. . .To me, I think a great, albeit existential, ending to a game would be the protagonists realization that he could’ve solved his solutions without murdering at all. Have a real, raw human struggle in a medium where we usually just press a trigger and let the nameless enemies die. . .to me, that’s a powerful statement. I think RAGE could’ve ended up asking the question “is the RESISTANCE really different from the AUTHORITY if they’re both killing, murdering and coercing eachother to get their own way”? I agree with what Chris is saying. . .I think that the endings of any form of art is one of the most important. It tells us what the effect is if there is a response. . .I think that depressing ends today are overkills, but they are especially terrible when they aren’t even depressing ends that address the totality of the story. As a player, I find when in the end of 1984 you get literally told that resistance is futile and that you should always give up and let Big Brother usurp your life. . .but you know that shining, bright light in your own soul knowing you can make a difference so that no one would ever have to go through that pain, ever. That’s a lot more powerful then a ‘woo you murdered the AUTHORITY’ or ‘you killed the bad guy’ can ever achieve. If the writers of top video game story lines can’t even hold consistency let alone let a sprawling connection of events all end in one place in an awesome, epic rush of exciting closure, which SHOULD have been like what the ending of Bioshock Infinite and ME3, then they shouldn’t have been hired in the first place. I think Chris is on to something about shoddy endings, but it’s not just the bad ones– forcing a happy ending, I think, is just as bad.

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