A week ago, I laid out that videogames typically have bad pacing. Did I also mention that videogames far too frequently to have bad endings, too?
No? Well, they do. So often, in fact, that I can lay out five distinct schools of bad videogame endings. Below, I list out those five traps of videogame endings, and how the games I have chosen to end my own list with escape those traps.
When you first start playing Eli Piilonen’s The Company of Myself (2DArray, 2009), it feels as if someone found a way to perfectly weld together a diary entry with a puzzle platformer. This was back in the heady days in the wake of Jonathan Blow’s Braid (Number None, 2008), when the public at large was still reeling over the idea that puzzle mechanics could mean something. And, at first glance, The Company of Myself seems to take this trend and go somewhere quite confessional with it. Its central mechanic of cloning yourself to solve puzzles stood as a perfect expression of feelings of self-reliance. And not just any self-reliance, either, but rather that specifically incorrigible mode of self-reliance that emerges when one is a bit too much of an unreconstructed introvert, refusing even the most basic forms of assistance because you desperately wish to not bother, or to be bothered by, anybody.
The “cloning” mechanic has popped up elsewhere in games—for instance The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom (The Odd Gentleman, 2010)—but The Company of Myself was more ambitious, wedding the mechanic with a personal story of interior life. Or, at least, it seems to do this, until you realize the whole thing is bullshit. The story takes an eleventh-hour delve into the lurid, revealing itself as an over-the-top fiction, rather than a form of sincere self-expression on the part of its creator.
The Company of Myself takes the easy way out, tacking on an over-dramatic denouement that destroys its potential as a diary-game. But … what if it didn’t? Could one actually use puzzles to communicate the intricacies of internal lived experience, in an emotionally sincere way? In this entry, I’ll be looking at two games that try: Liz Ryerson’s intimate and beguiling Problem Attic (2013), and Atrax Media’s more slick and straightforward Sym (2015). Along the way, I’ll also be dipping a bit into Braid, just because it’s hard to talk about contemporary puzzle platformers without doing so.
What follows is a lesson from my 2013 course “Comparative Media Poetics: Cinema and Videogames” at taught U Chicago. On the docket for this week: displays of intelligence and expertise in cinema (from Buster Keaton films to contemporary action cinema), and the ways in which the needs for interactivity force a very different visual style in games than we see in contemporary cinema.
The screening/play-session hybrid that lead up to this class included clips from The General (Buster Keaton with Clyde Bruckman,1926), College (Buster Keaton with James W. Horne, 1927), Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006), and The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007), the latter of which is our primary concern here. It also included students playing portions of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (Naughty Dog, 2011) and Mirror’s Edge (DICE, 2009). Readings for the week included selections from Noël Carroll’s book on Buster Keaton Comedy Incarnate, and a chapter from James Paul Gee’s book Why Video Games Are Good for Your Soul.