Light vs. Dark
First of all, let me start by saying that I have little to no formal education on the subject. The following will simply be a series of opinions I have developed after consuming far too much media.
Recently the message boards here on the escapist have been spotted with several posts about the ending to mass effect 3. Relax; this will not be a discussion on that topic. Rather, I would like to discuss an issue that has come up from that discussion.
A common accusation as to why people didn't like the ending is that it was too dark. For some people this is true, and for others this is false. Again, I am not going to discuss this issue rather I would like to mention the inherent problems with too much of either end of the spectrum.
William Blake (that's right I'm going there) is famous for being a generally good poet in the same way that Michael Jordan was generally good at basketball. However, most of his beloved works come from one of two sources, Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocents. I bring this up not just because I am a fancy pants (even though my pants are indeed super fancy), but because these two sets of poems are a reflection of light and dark.
What the hell does this have to do with video games? Simple, videogames tell stories, and when you don't have an appropriate amount of contrast in a story you don't get the impact. In Songs of Innocents we have a poem titled "The Lamb" and in Songs of Experience there is a poem entitled "The Tyger" (oh yeah "Y" is "I's" sexier older brother). These two poems are designed to emphasize the fact that without light there can be no darkness and vice versa. Basically, if it were not for the violence of the tiger (I am not awesome enough to use "Y") then the lamb would not seem so kind and docile.
Okay, in danger of losing my audience who is already about go back to watching a cat play the piano on Youtube, I am going to point out a story that does this well. The move "Se7en." For those of you who have not seen this film and still want too I suggest you skip this paragraph and just assume that I am right, always a good assumption, because I am going to spoil the poopsickles out of the movie. Okay, in the movie there are a lot of dark scenes (I mean it rains like everyday). People remember "Gluttony," "Sloth," and of course "What's in the Box?" However, do you remember why "What's in the box?" was so impactful? I hope not, because I am going to tell you anyway. It was impactful because of a fairly boring and very easily forgotten scene, the scene where Morgan Freeman (let's be honest you don't remember the character's name either) goes and has dinner with Brad Pitt (again character name forgotten) and his wife (I'm noticing a pattern). In this scene we learn about the couple's hopes and dreams, about whom (who? Oh hell I don't know ... leaking credibility... -1 fancy pants) they are in their down time, and we learn that they love each other very much. That is why most people had a very visceral reaction to "What's in the box?" We as the audience know how big of a deal it is because this incredibly dark movie had enough light in it to let us know what was lost in the dark.
In games, just as in any other medium, we need to keep in mind that, believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much dark. This is true for too much light. A good story has a balance of the two. The light makes the dark hurt that much more, and the dark provides the light with that much more joy. Mass Effect 3's ending are right or wrong is not the point. The point is that simply dismissing the argument as childish is wrong...and childish. Darkness without light is meaningless just as light without dark is meaningless. Videogames are a medium that starting to be held up to a higher standard in story telling, and if we are going to try and tell greater stories than this fact needs to be kept in mind.
Thank you for your time. I hope that this was somewhat interesting. However, if you found this boring and lame, then worry not. I have good news! It made me feel better and isn't that what really matters? =^)