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.