How Did It End Up Like This? The Rise and Fall of Denouements in Gaming
Judging by the examples, it may seem like my hatred for endings stems from modern gaming. It does and only because games from the 20th Century happened to have far simpler goals and desires. Arcades had to give you a rock-hard final boss to keep dimwitted teenagers dispensing their quarters. It was similar with other final bosses such as Mario vs. Bowser in Mario 64 kept with the theme of the game and reflecting the mindset of the industry then. Final bosses were the norm but the medium was still in its infancy. We don’t use the language of Shakespeare’s time now, not because it’s bad, but because it has evolved. Yet, final bosses haven’t evolved beyond ‘shoot this and avoid that’. There are other workarounds that haven’t been explored. It is aggravating to see acclaimed developers falling back on old tropes instead of evolving.
It’s even more frustrating when true classics are let down by the final half an hour or so. Both recent Batman games have pathetic excuses for final boss battles. The Joker duel in Arkham Asylum is both laughable and pitiful in equal measure. The game did so well to immerse you in its universe but it threw all of that out of the window with a painfully simple final boss. The same rings true for Bioshock and Arkham City. Both had great reveals but then went nowhere fast with them. Bioshock, in particular, was guilty of this as it handed the player a final boss simply for the sake of having something to do after Andrew Ryan’s revelation. The game would have been much more powerful if Jack had killed Andrew Ryan and had ended there and then.
Developers break the rules of the game with endings. Dead Space 2’s final boss wasn’t scary and was more annoying than anything else. It didn’t present much of a challenge and it strayed too far away from the formula to be entertaining or to be provide a means of escape.. Escapism is a major reason as to why we play video games and final bosses pull us out of this mindset. We then know we are just playing a game rather than going through an experience and it is a major let down and something the industry needs to work on.
Where do we go from here? It’s a real quandary. Developers try and take the pluralist view point and appeal too much to a certain demographic yet neglect others. It’s true that not all melancholy endings are great and, equally, that good triumphing evil doesn’t bring about a bad ending automatically but developers try and play it safe. It ultimately comes down to money when making a new project or even an established one. We saw it last year with Homeland. Sgt. Brody’s story has now gone too far to be gripping anymore. We lose our immersion and we lose our interest. Metal Gear Solid 3 had neither a financial need to succeed nor a commercial one. Hideo Kojima could have played it safe as he waited for the sequel to wrap things up but he gave us a heartfelt tale of betrayal and what it means to serve for one’s country. The final moments with Naked Snake saluting The Boss’ grave needed no words and it was genuinely the closest I have come to crying at a game. Moments like these need to be replicated without fear of reprisal.
If games stick to the rules they have set by fearing to deviate from the audience’s expectations, endings will never be able to evolve. Getting rid of traditional boss battles as soon as possible will, in my opinion, be a step toward seeing more fulfilling endings.
Hopefully that will be the end of the matter.
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