Warning: The following blog post contains spoilers for the video game Omensight. If you interested in this title, I have full reviews both here on the site as well as on DLH.net.
Do stories owe us happy endings? Certainly not, I suppose, but I feel like there are certain expectations depending on the format of that story. Sad endings can certainly have their places and, done right, can even be better than a so-called "happy ending." But today I learned a little more about a game title that I recently reviewed. It got me wondering about this very topic and how it relates to story telling in general as well as the specific medium used to convey that story.
Let's get straight to the heart of the matter. Omensight, which I reviewed for the Playstation 4, was a good game. I enjoyed the play style and it certainly try to experiment with certain expectations. Did they succeed? Well, that depends greatly on who you asked, and, since you're here, I'll humbly assume you want my take. I... don't know. I'm leaning toward no, though. See, when I play a game, especially one that gives me so many options, so much control over what's going on, I expect that the ending will be within my control as well, and for Omensight, that's just not the case. Let me explain why.
To briefly summarize the game, you play the Harbinger, an ethereal being summoned when the world is in peril. The planet is about to be consumed by a dark being and you must stop it by solving a murder. To accomplish this, you relive the same 24 hours over and over, following different characters and changing their lives by either assisting them or sharing information with them. The kicker, story-wise, is that while you as the play may become attached to these characters and want the best for them, your character, The Harbinger, does not.
She is neutral. She's not there to interfere with their lives, she merely requires a holy weapon that solving the murder of a priestess will reveal. Now, when you go back in time, any changes you've made reset. Only your knowledge moves forward in the game. This means that on the final day, after saving characters' lives over and over, influencing decisions, and stopping a war, everything you've done resets. Your final day involves only one character. You go straight from them to the blade, then to the final battle with evil. All the death, misunderstanding, and misery that befell the other characters happens again because you did nothing that cycle to stop it. And the Harbinger doesn't care. It's not her job to care. But as a player, you are then treated to something terrible: the end.
A sweet character who made a stupid choice to sell her soul, goes through with it. She becomes an evil tyrant and rules over her people with a cold, unfeeling iron fist. A ruler that had lost touch with his people and whom you convinced to stop a war, no longer had any reason to chance. He, subsequently, is assassinated, as happens every time you don't meet him, but now you get to see the after effects of his death. The entire kingdom suffers. A great warrior, a general who values mercy over revenge and seeks to settle battles with minimal bloodshed dies at the hands of the aforementioned sweet character. She gets a statue to memorialize her. And that's the end of her story. And lastly, a brave, but silly friend who brought you to the blade... he's offed by a cult. Thrown off a bridge and his death blamed on intoxication. That's it.
Now, in practical terms, these characters never met the Harbinger, so it stands to reason. But the Harbringer also had the means to stop all this suffering. The game simply presents it as it not being her job to do so. In the context of a novel or a movie, I suppose I could live with this. I wouldn't like it, but I could live with it. But not in a game. In this day and age, games commonly have multiple endings. Especially games that deal with altering the past or interacting with people. This game has a slew of memory shards to collect, so my first thought was "Oh! I must need to collect everything to get the 'good' ending." No. There is no "good" ending. It's terribly disappointing in a game that otherwise could've been so good!
So then, I wonder, in a broader perspective, do our storytellers owe us good endings? Or at the very least, do should they try to deliver satisfying endings? I'm not here to say that killing off everyone isn't a valid conclusion (Game of Thrones?) or that leaving things on a down note isn't the way to go. But perhaps the context should be considered as well. When I look at a book or a movie, I know I have no control over the outcome of this story. I can accept that however this turns out is how it's going to turn out. But a game? That's a different beast. I should be able to have an effect on the outcome. I mean, even Choose Your Own Adventure knew that much.
Be Excellent to Each Other.
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.