There are many excellent games out there, and many have wonderful stories and dedicated writing. But for some reason there’s a barrier at the end of many of these narratives that forces the players to have unintended consequences that belie the choices made. I think it has something to do with the strange common idea (and in my opinion misconception) that sadness is more poetic than any other emotion. Or that somehow, not everything can turn out good, something big must give.
Mass Effect is one of my favorite games where you make choices that alter gameplay. Shepard can be played as a paragon of society, an ideal to look up to, or a renegade, a rebel who will pressure the galaxy with sheer force of will, to get past the threat. You make allies, scare your enemies into compliance, follow the path you build for yourself. But in the end you either destroy an entire race and destroy technological advancements that connected the galaxy, or indoctrinate everyone. The third choice is kinda good, but at the cost of your character’s life. There’s no perfect win, no matter how hard you try.
Another game that does this but like a million times more is Life is Strange. A game that prided itself on being a game of consequences and choices as it was getting released one episode at a time, fell flat. Well more like fell off a bridge and into the abyss that it dug for itself. The game has two endings. One has you sacrifice a character that you literally spend the entire game saving. The second sacrifices the whole town over said character. No choice you make matters. Nothing changes. And not only does the game punish you regardless, there are also choices where in trying to do something kind, oftentimes it backfires on you.
I recently finished Outer Worlds. For a game that doesn’t take itself even a little bit seriously, it does one things that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. Now, this might be a fault of my own, maybe I hadn’t found the right games yet. This game let my kindness be paid back. I spent 20 hours trying to fix the messed up, capitalist corner of the galaxy. I did everything to not leave anyone behind. I tried to make worlds self-reliant, and unite factions that lost their way towards each other. And in the end, it worked. No one got left behind, no one was sacrificed. The developers just let you have that win. In a year that has only punched everyone while we are down, this little bright spot made my week spent playing this game a little better.
There’s a time and a place for grimdark stories in games, there’s a place for stories that are neutral. There’s a lot of space for hopeful endings that let the future shine through in the distance. But until now, I haven’t encountered many stories that just let you be happy in the end. I’m glad I had now. What games have y’all played where the ending made you feel pure happiness?