The Search for a “Good” Ending in Save the Date

by: Madelyn

In most games, it isn’t possible to sit down for two minutes, make a couple choices, and get to a screen that tells you it’s “The End.” In Save the Date, that is just about the only thing that can happen—but just because the player has reached the end of a storyline, this is far different from having reached the end of their gameplay experience. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Save the Date is built around a core gameplay loop that expects the player to feel unsatisfied with the narrative ending they receive and play again to try to get a “better” one. However, one could argue that the player will never reach a satisfying ending, if their goal is to “save the date”—to successfully go out with Felicia while keeping her alive.

The game includes a variety of narrative paths that ultimately lead to (as far as I am aware) twelve different main diegetic endings—eleven of which involve Felicia’s death in some way or another. The twelfth requires only a single choice from the player, choosing to not go out with her in the first place. This option feels intuitively “incorrect,” as a player’s natural response would likely be “How can I save the date if there is no date?” However, after repeated failed attempts to go on the date without Felicia dying, one returns to this menu dialogue option with a different perspective—“maybe the only way to save the date is not going on one at all.” While this option does keep Felicia alive, it is still unlikely that players will find it satisfying.

Save the Date also has potential for two nondiegetic “endings”—both of which come to a less tragic conclusion than any of the twelve narrative endings, but it is debatable whether either of these endings can be considered a legitimate ending of the game to begin with. First, there is the “hacker ending.” The player can navigate through the game’s directory to find a file named I_AM_A_HACKER.rpy, and by editing a line in this file from “False” to “True,” the player will now have access to a new dialogue option at the beginning of the game—to suggest having “an awesome dinner in [their] floating sky castle because [they are] a hacker!” If the player chooses this option, they and Felicia will both become extremely wealthy and live out all their wildest dreams, so it may at first seem like a “good” ending. However, this route tends to leave players unsatisfied as well, because the game makes them feel like they cheated to even get this option in the first place. After experiencing this ending for the first time, the player encounters an unexpected new catalyst for repetition—a search not just for a “good” ending, but for a “good ending” that they feel like they have earned.

Finally, once the player has repeated several iterations of the loop and they go out with Felicia to Moore’s Hill (where she will still eventually die), being truthful with her about their intentions and about the loop will lead to a deeper, more philosophical conversation than anywhere else in the game. In this conversation, Felicia attempts to help the player find an ending that they deem to be “satisfying.” If the player chooses the dialogue option suggesting that they just want a “You Win” screen, Felicia offers to simply say it to them and asks if this will solve the problem (interestingly, this is not considered an actual ending to the game—the dialogue keeps moving forward past this point). Further, Felicia suggests that maybe the way to get a satisfying ending is to close the game and imagine an entirely different ending if they don’t like the one the author created. Ironically, this is one of the few endings that the creator of the game himself deems to be the “true” ending of Save the Date. However, it is once again debatable whether this can even be considered an actual ending of the game, when it solely exists outside of the body of the work itself. Does this mean that any alternative ending we can think of for any piece of media is equally as legitimate as the ending(s) of the work itself? Is this case different because the creator of the game specifically wanted people to create their own endings? Is Felicia even really meant to be saved? These are all valid questions that arise from considering this abstract “ending” to Save the Date, and there is no objective answer to any of them. Some players may be satisfied with the idea of the game allowing them the creative freedom to think up their own ending, while others may find this unfair or illegitimate and argue that Save the Date simply has no happy ending.

At some point, the player will no longer feel the desire to keep looping through the game in search of a “good” ending—they will either accept or deny the one in their imagination, but after they have completed all of the diegetic storylines to the game, this is when their playthrough truly “ends.” At this stage, they have experienced twelve to fourteen endings, depending on which they consider to be legitimate, and all that is left is for them to decide which ending they liked the best. Many players will likely choose to accept one of the more controversial endings, such as the imagined ending or the hacker ending, but some may also choose to take one of the death endings and interpret it as their version of the game’s canon, simply because they found it the most entertaining. As the player chooses their macro-level ending of the game, having experienced micro-level endings many times, Save the Date’s gameplay loop finally draws to a close.

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