The Needles

The Needles
When Endings Go Bad

Andy Chalk | 25 Aug 2009 21:00
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In fact, the only game in my admittedly limited experience that leaps to mind as culminating in an unavoidable downer is the classic Another World, aka Out Of This World, in which the best a player can say about his condition when all is said and done is that he appears to be more or less still alive. Alone, stranded on a hostile alien world with no apparent hope of returning home, hunted by a powerful and ruthless enemy, unconscious, bleeding and helpless... but alive.

There were no reloads, no do-overs, no options for anything better; that's the conclusion you got because that's the story Eric Chahi, the game's creator, wanted to tell. It was ambiguous at best and, when you really think about it, downright gloomy in most regards; assuming you didn't bleed to death or die as a result of internal injuries five minutes after "The End" faded from the screen, there was absolutely no indication of what your survival earned you beyond a life, probably miserable and grossly abbreviated, trapped on a world that seemed oddly determined to kill you. The irony? It was freakin' brilliant. (It was also remade and re-released in 2007 as a 15th Anniversary Edition, so there's no excuse not to experience it for yourself.)

But that was then and this is now and whether or not we like it, games, and gamers, were and are different. Small, independent devs can afford to make art but the big players - that is, the guys who fill the shelves at GameStop - have to make money. So the question ultimately becomes this: Are today's gamers willing to surrender narrative control to a game designer who has a very specific story to tell? Are we prepared to take that step, and to be cool about it when things don't unfold quite as we expect or want them to?

We're not going to find out until one of the majors puts its money where its Macbeth is, but I don't hold out a lot of hope, at least not for the short term. The uniquely interactive quality of videogames makes them an incredibly powerful and immersive storytelling tool, yet that very interactivity that sinks us so deeply into the story virtually precludes them from being anything but tales of victory. The technology is ready and has been for awhile now; gamers, on the other hand, are not.

Andy Chalk worked very hard not to mention Max Payne 2 in this column.

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