I recently had a conversation with a friend about movie endings. He enjoys movies with non-traditional endings: the couple breaks up instead of falling in love, the hero dies instead of saving the day, the young turk ends up in the mail room instead of the board room, and the like. I, on the other hand, enjoy the idea of these endings, and often times find myself infuriated with the traditional Hollywood ending, but…
Contrarian endings just don’t satisfy me. And I bet they don’t really satisfy you either, because, even though they may be more “realistic,” they just aren’t fun.
So often, it feels as though games fall into the same Tradition Trap as movies. We have young, maybe even child, heroes defying the odds and saving the world. Plucky upstarts, brooding loners, and taciturn lunks with hearts of gold abound.
But I don’t think we would want it any other way. Every few years, another antihero game comes along. These games are quirky and amusing, but rarely all that impressive. And imagine if you were seriously placed in the role of a sociopath villain; we’d be playing the Call of Duty 4 airport mission all day long. Disturbing stuff.
This post started with movie endings, so clearly the game endings must be discussed. But let’s face it: you can’t beat a game just to see some sort of unhappy ending. It doesn’t make sense. The unhappy endings occur when we die (only to reload). The happy ending happens when we succeed, that’s what we played for, more or less.
That said, there are more than a few traditional game cliches I could do without, but I realized I don’t really see them as much as I thought. The one I dislike most is the preponderance of adolescent heroes. Yet, in many of my favorite games, the protagonists are clearly adults, of some indeterminate age. Think of Cecil in Final Fantasy IV – he was an established warrior, in command of an elite battle unit. Sure, for every Cecil, there’s a Chrono, but the list isn’t as overflowing with teenagers as I thought.
In summary, traditional happy endings just make sense, in movies and even more so in games. A lot of the other traditional stuff isn’t as cloyingly prevalent as I first thought, but even when it is, there’s a reason for it. Usually. It’s because we like it.