The Monday ‘Joe: On Game Endings and Fan Reaction

The Monday 'Joe

Mondays are usually slow for news as people start to stir for the coming week. Therefore, every Monday, we will address one topic to start the week and get discussion flowing. It stimulates the week like a cup of coffee, hence the title.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the ending of Mass Effect 3, which has so far been the biggest game of 2012. While I haven’t been spoiled—and for someone who’s just starting the original Mass Effect, I do not want to be spoiled—all indications hint that the ending is largely unsatisfying for those who poured hundreds of hours into the game. While unsatisfying and/or negative endings are part and parcel of any form of storytelling, gamers have escalated their displeasure by putting out petitions to have the ending of the game changed.

This week’s question:

Should gamers petition to change an unpopular ending in their games, or are they showing entitlement?

Crystal Steltenpohl: Endings in general are tricky subjects. It’s not as simple as, “Well, you had fun playing this game, so why are you complaining about the end?” Someone may have a lot of fun through the rest of the game, but the ending can ruin it. I remember pouring hours into Sword of Mana just to watch the female protagonist turn into a tree. A tree. A tree. I haven’t been able to pick it up since, and Sword of Mana is short compared to a series like Mass Effect. I don’t know how long it took me to beat Sword of Mana, but even if we assume something like fifteen to twenty hours, that’s about a third or half of what you might spend on the first Mass Effect game. When you are hired to tell a story, it’s expected that you’ll be able to tell a good one from start to finish. If the ending is lackluster, that creates a hole. The better the rest of the story is, the worse that hole is. I can understand gamers’ negative reactions when they spend hundreds of hours on a game for the ending to be disappointing, and I empathize. Plenty of games, movies, and books have done that to me.

That said, I have to ask specifically what people are complaining about. I’ve intentionally stayed away from any potential spoilers, at least for Mass Effect 3. (I feel like the first two are fair game since they’ve been out so long.) So I don’t know what the ending is. There’s a difference between a bad ending and an ending you don’t like. Is the writing bad? Is there no closure or acceptable non-closure? Or is it just that a character you liked died or that something you really wanted to happen didn’t end up happening? I’ve heard people say the ending for Mass Effect 3 sucks, but I haven’t really heard why. The least vague explanation I got was, “It was just weird,” and, “It kind of went off in a different direction.” Okay…? The ending for the Harry Potter series was a little weird for me—why did everyone settle down and get married? Harry should’ve continued going on adventures and fight evil, in my opinion—but I wouldn’t petition J.K. Rowling for an alternate ending.

I don’t know that it’s gamer “entitlement” per sé; I think that label gets thrown around way too much to be meaningful anymore. However, I do think that, unless the ending was legitimately bad—as in incomplete, incomprehensible, and offensive to people’s sensibilities as consumers of a story—they shouldn’t petition for a different ending. You get what you pay for, and just because you don’t like the ending or didn’t get what you want doesn’t mean that Bioware or anyone else are beholden to you.

Joshua Moore: I haven’t played ME3 and have thus stayed away from spoilers as I intend to play it eventually. With that said, however, I think a couple factors are at play here:

It’s the end of a trilogy. People think that it should be epic and satisfying. Given people’s reactions, of course, it was probably neither. Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me because I half expect the story to be continued in DLC later. I’ve heard various people and places talk about the possibility of a “true end” DLC, and while I don’t think that BioWare will develop DLC just for changing the ending, I do think EA will seize any opportunities to make more money. Secondly, Mass Effect 3 is played by a large majority of gamers. Not all of them have been playing games long enough to have been dealt a shitty ending before. Combine this with the fact that gamers are an obnoxiously verbal crowd, and I think we can start to uncover the reasons behind many of the complaints.

That said, should you petition to change the ending? No, you shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter how many hours you poured into it: storylines are someone’s work of art, and asking for them to be changed is an insult to the people who worked on the game. It’s like reading a book someone wrote and published, only for the author to receive many angry letters asking him or her to change the ending. The difference is that this is a game and DLC exists, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

On a side note, I hope there won’t be spoilers everywhere because I pretty much have to wait for the day the game is put on Steam or the retail copies stop carrying SecuROM.

Mohammed Al Saadoon: Before I go on, I’d like to say that I haven’t played Mass Effect 3 yet, so I haven’t seen the big ending everyone is talking about.

Now then, it’s reasonable not to like an ending to a video game you’ve spent many hours of your life on as it can sour an otherwise great experience. This goes double for a a trilogy of games, movies, novels, or whatever else since you’ve invested more time and emotions into the characters and the universe.

But in the end, I don’t subscribe to the theory that a poor game in the series or an ending will retroactively suck the enjoyment I had up to that point. Many times I’ve heard, “They shouldn’t make a new game in series X or franchise Y! They’ll just ruin it!” as though making a new entry will somehow create a time paradox where your old good times with the series will suddenly be erased and be left with nothing but unending misery.

Just accept it and move on. It’s not worth the effort to change an ending to what is basically just a game. There are far more important things in life to write petitions for. Hell, even in the gaming industry itself, this righteous anger would be better spent on things like obnoxious DRM, overpriced DLC, or overpriced propriety memory cards for handheld consoles, but I digress.

I also don’t like to pull out my cane and rocking chair a là Cranky Kong and explain why modern gamers are entitled, but I’ll do it anyway. Back in my day, we were lucky to get an ending that wasn’t just white text on a black screen telling you, “Congratulations” or, “The End.” If we were really lucky, the ending would actually be free of typos, too! Hell, Super Mario Bros. 2 was just Mario’s wet dream or something like that, and we thanked God for giving us a cutscene of Mario dreaming so it numbed the pain of how shitty that ending was.

Brandon Mietzner: I honestly believe that the ending of Mass Effect 3 shouldn’t be changed. I’ll cover in an upcoming review the reasons as to why I think it failed miserably in many gamers’ opinions, including mine. However, to change it would dictate entitlement, and this should never exist in any media. They don’t change the ending to a book or a movie because most of the audience don’t like it after they’ve read it or seen it. Sometimes there’s a director’s cut of a movie with an alternate ending because the studio changed it or the majority of the movie during development (e.g. Superman 2 and the Richard Donner Cut), but that isn’t the case here. Casey Hudson said this is what they intended for the ending. I would prefer we point to it and say this is what not to do, especially with a franchise as widely beloved as Mass Effect. I feel like if I say any more, it’ll hurt the review I’m working on, so I’ll stop here.

Nathan Wood: Similar to many of the previous responses, I have yet to witness the ending to Mass Effect 3, but I should be obtaining a copy in a week or two. Unlike my fellow writers, however, the ending has been somewhat spoiled for me due to my being careless while reading a write up on the issue. First off, even though I haven’t seen the ending for myself, I’m immediately against petitioning to change the ending to a series of popular games. It really is entitlement, and things like this don’t fly in other industries. So many people complain that the games industry isn’t taken seriously and that some level of prejudice is held against gamers in general, but it’s because of stupid things like this that we ourselves wind up perpetuating that image. We’re labeled as being easily angered spoilt children, and petitioning to change an ending to a video game is definitely entitlement.

As someone who absolutely loved the first two Matrix films, imagine my disappointment in what was one of the worst and most underwhelming sequels ever made. Let’s be honest: the last film was an absolute piece of trash, and the majority of people who watched it would agree with me. But was a petition formed? No. People have the right to dislike an ending and complain, but the moment an action is taken against the company like a petition, it infringes on the basic right of an artist to deliver a message, story, et cetera in their own personal way.

How the critics react to a piece of media and how the audience responds to it is the consequence of a great or poor piece of media. If this is the ending that BioWare and Casey Hudson see fit, so be it. Sure, it may have been a poor ending, but that’s the developers fault and we can’t change that. The reception of the title is all we as the audience can provide. Would it be nice if the ending were better? Of course. But that’s a mistake that the developer has made, which unfortunately has negative impacts on us, the gamers. Instead of dwelling on the ending, which literally lasts maybe five minutes, enjoy the past hundred hours or more of enjoyment the game has brought you. Everything I’ve said comes from someone who’s a massive Mass Effect fan. I mean, we are talking about just a video game here. There are more pressing issues in our industry, let alone the world, that could use our attention.

Christopher Bowen: The reaction to this ending has been absolutely maddening. While I haven’t seen the ending, something tells me it’s not a happy one. Also, while I guess there could be some criticism that there aren’t multiple ending arcs (from the sounds of it), petitioning to change the ending and getting the Federal Trade Commission involved is absolutely ludicrous, and the people behind these moves should be mocked, shunned, whatever. Someone on Twitter made the comparison that the trouble with Capcom is that they intentionally alienate their hardcore base, while the trouble with BioWare is that they cater to their hardcore base. With things like this happening, gamers are dangerously close to moving BioWare into becoming the company that changed Devil May Cry specifically to piss off their fans, cancelled Mega Man because of a beancounter’s decision, and whose top grossing game is a Zynga wannabe.

What I don’t understand is this: when you bought Mass Effect and jumped into those games, you decided that you were behind the creative direction of the game. You were down with the vision of the people that wrote what is, ostensibly, a masterpiece of a trilogy. I’ve seen endings in both movies and games that I didn’t care for, and at the time, it’s a frustrating thing. But sometimes, frustration is just what happens. That’s the intention. Imagine where you’re watching someone try to save the planet with a group of people you’ve grown to know and like, and in the end, no matter the good intentions and good moves of everyone involved, it doesn’t matter: everyone dies, viscerally and painfully, and then the world is literally destroyed anyway by the very enemy they were trying to defeat. I don’t know if that’s what happened in Mass Effect 3, but it’s definitely what happened in Space Runaway Ideon, a 1980’s anime by Yoshiyuki Tomino that was produced immediately after the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Thirty-nine episodes, and it didn’t matter because everyone died anyway. Frustrating? Yes. Sad? Incredibly. But sometimes, that’s the lesson: war fucking sucks.

If you’re too selfish and entitled to grasp that might be the lesson out of all this—again, I don’t know—then you deserve to be mocked. Just don’t screw up my games going forward by making these companies risk averse.


Disclaimer: This week’s Monday ‘Joe prompt and question were written by Christopher Bowen.


About M. Ngai