Warning: This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones, The Grey, and The Last of Us.
Maybe I’ve been reading too much of A Song of Ice and Fire (also known as Game of Thrones for those that only watch the T.V. show), but I’ve fallen in love with dark, unexpected plot twists. Words cannot describe the horror I felt when Eddard Stark’s head rolled across the Great Sept of Baelor. My terror was multiplied tenfold when I read about the infamous Red Wedding, but I wanted to throw my computer to the ground when I watched it. No matter how bittersweet these dark turns are, they still hold a special place in my heart, which would make a dark ending the cherry on top of this sour cake. George R. R. Martin has testified that the ending of A Song of Ice and Fire won’t be joyous, and I look forward to reading the words that will conclude the series.
The blockbuster hit The Grey also kindled my love for somber conclusions. Throughout the movie, characters are either killed by the ravenous wolves pursuing them or die of hypothermia as they sleep. The film concludes with the main character, Ottway, stumbling upon the wolves’ den and preparing for a fight he can’t hope to win against the entire pack. Viewers don’t even get to see the fight because the movie cuts to the credits immediately after he engages the pack’s leader. I watched the entire movie falling in love with Ottway’s back-story and supported the entire group during their struggle, and I was rewarded with the assumption that Ottway dies after everything he’s been through.
Ottway’s journey is a good story featuring fantastic characterization, awesome plot twists, and wonderful structure. A Song of Ice and Fire and The Grey have all three of these, but so do many video games. With that in mind, why can’t a video game be like some books and movies and end darkly? Video games are, after all, just another way to tell a story. The video game industry is saturated with so many happy endings that endings like the one in The Grey is a rarity. Gamers expect a happy ending and don’t question the cliché. It seems that protagonists are invincible machines that can never be beaten into submission.
When I mentioned that video games should be darker to my peers, their reactions were mixed. One said, “Video games are supposed to be happy” while another wondered when I became so sadistic. I finally turned to my mother with the opinion and she, being the innocent woman that she is, said, “Why should video games be dark? They’re already violent enough!”
A dark ending would have been absolutely perfect for some video games, and The Last of Us blew a fantastic opportunity to have a brilliant one. Admittedly, The Last of Us didn’t end with mankind being saved and Joel and Ellie living forever at a populated beach resort, but Naughty Dog was nice enough to leave the player with a thread of hope. Joel still has Ellie, and they will somehow survive as long as they’re together. But how much more of an impact would the game have had if Ellie had died and Joel turned into one of the infected? Our favorite characters would have perished, taking mankind’s only chance of survival with them. The Last of Us continually emphasized that post-apocalyptic America is a dog eat dog world where you never know if you’ll live to see tomorrow, but it wasn’t taken to the next level. Someone once said never to take away a man’s hope because it may be the only thing he has left, and the ending I just described would make “hope” a lost word with no definition. Sometimes a gamer needs to be shocked into terror, his or her stomach replaced with a gaping hole.
The gaming industry has never relented with shoving joyous endings down its communities’ throats. It’s time to realize that a deeper message can be achieved with more than the main character avenging his father’s death, or the underdog getting the pretty lady and emerging victorious from his struggle. Games need to keep us on the edge of our seat, not have us expecting that the hero will get out of anything he encounters. Protagonists are not invincible and their humanity deserves to be fleshed out.
What do you think about the lack of dark endings in video games? Shout it out in the comments.