Wednesday, November 14, 2012

No Ending For You

I have been thinking about videogame endings since I finished Mark of the Ninja. I usually don't finish games. For example, I've put around a hundred hours into Deus Ex (the first one) but never played it all the way through. I thought I'd quickly list some reasons why I stop playing games before the game tells me I'm done.

First of all is difficulty. Games often ramp up the difficulty near the end, usually to increase tension. Sometimes this works. But it works best when the game feels more difficult without actually becoming so. If the game gets substantially harder I move through it at a different speed; I have to reload saved games more often; I get so familiar with the level that my every move is known to me minutes in advance. I stop trying to defeat my enemies (who or what ever they are) and start trying to beat the game itself, which is no way to play.

Secondly, new mechanics stop being introduced. Well, that's not true - that happens earlier. When a game moves into its ending it not only stops giving you new tools/environments/opponents but it stops combining them in new ways. For the ending has come! And you must draw upon all your hard-earned skills!
Except that I'm an exploratory player and I've now run out of things to explore. If this gameplay is going to be the same as before, but harder and put together a little differently, then what benefit do I get from continuing? Now, I do get the end of the story. But I am not reading a book, I am playing a game. If the gameplay is not drawing me onwards, if the things I am doing to advance are not important to the progression of the story, then I am no longer playing a game - I am watching a badly made movie.

Thirdly, sometimes I just don't give a damn about the things I am supposed to. Let's use Deus Ex as an example. That game is full of vast, impersonal conspiracies tugging the strings of the world and of the player character (JC Denton). But that's too large and vague to hold in my head. I didn't give a damn about M-12 or the Illuminati or what UNATCO was really created to do. I cared about the people I had met - Gunther Hermann, Anna Navarre, my brother Paul. Once their story arcs were resolved I had no emotional connection to draw me further into the game when I stopped exploring the gameplay (as discussed above).

I can only think of three points right now, so this post will end now.

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