Guest Post: What’s in a Conclusion?


We have a guest post today submitted to us by Courtney Lee, who is taking a look at how the endings of modern video games have become more complicated — and as a result, some work and some don’t. Check it out:

Video games have evolved by leaps and bounds in recent years. Gamers are doing much more than saving princesses and collecting coins now – they’re navigating through large worlds and complicated stories. Players control their characters through epic journeys that rival the stories of Hollywood blockbusters and popular novels.

Two recent games – “Batman: Arkham City” and “Mass Effect 3” – demonstrated what’s great and what’s wrong with storytelling in video games. Fans had high expectations for both titles, but only Batman lived up to the considerable hype. What was the main difference between the two games? “Mass Effect 3” featured a controversial ending that upset numerous fans, whereas “Arkham City” presented a satisfying conclusion.

The vague and the definite

Part of the controversy surrounding the ending of “Mass Effect 3” was its ambiguity. Lucas Siegel, an editor at Newsarama, told LiveScience that fans felt cheated out of receiving a clear conclusion to a series that they had played for years.

“After the hundreds of choices you make, there are only small differences in the end, and some things, the fates of certain parts of this world, are left open to interpretation, rather than being flat-out told,” Siegel said to the news source.

“Arkham City” took the opposite approach and was lauded for its story. GameSpy wrote that the video game’s plot and finale were even more satisfying than Christopher Nolan’s film trilogy. Paul Dini, the game’s writer and part of the production team behind “Batman: The Animated Series,” used all of the toys in Gotham City’s sandbox to give gamers a tragic confrontation between the Caped Crusader and the Joker.

Downloadable content as a supplement

After “Mass Effect” fans made it clear that they weren’t happy with the ending, the game’s publisher BioWare released downloadable content (DLC) to explain the conclusion. Game Informer wrote that the expansion pack resolved many plot holes, but that it mostly consisted of dialog and featured few new challenges.

“Arkham City” received DLC that focused on the story’s conclusion. Instead of ham-fisted exposition, gamers were put into a supporting character’s shoes as he tried to make sense of what happened over the course of the game’s events. “Harley Quinn’s Revenge” gave Robin the spotlight and was almost an entirely new game.

Where games are headed

Both titles represent the cinematic nature of modern video games. “Arkham City” demonstrated the medium’s storytelling potential, while “Mass Effect 3” showed that there’s still room for improvement in some respects. The controversy surrounding BioWare’s game may motivate publishers to craft satisfying stories and conclusions to avoid upsetting their fans. But as of now, players can rest assured future games will remain interactive and action oriented; perhaps with stimulating storylines gamers will enjoy. Video games like “Batman: Arkham City” and “Mass Effect 3” are available at online retailers like Newegg and Amazon.

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