Why Do They Feel So Cheap? - JonKeyes Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Why Do They Feel So Cheap?

WARNING - This Blog Contains Spoilers From The Modern Warfare Series, Red Dead Redemption, and Fallout 3

 

Also note that I don't often write so there are likely to be grammatical errors everywhere. This isn't a blog about how developers could bring about more games with tragic endings, just a blog that came from a question asked. Don't blame me if you draw conclusions from reading this small font, there was a spoiler warning before I even started typing this out. I even changed the title a couple times to make sure people wouldn't know exactly what I was talking about unless they read the blog.

Biggest. Spoiler. Ever.

So, early this morning as I was listening to Halestorm when a question Hist asked Saint's 50th Member Herding blog came to mind.

"5. Hist asks, "Some stories in books and movies have downbeat endings. Do you think an ending like that can work in a video game? If you've spent 10-15 hours playing a game, being the hero, would a "bad" ending satisfy you?" 

After mulling over this question I started to question why developers have not worked tragic events into their games better then they have already.

In the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Sergeant Paul Jackson is the first major death that the player experiences throughout the series and, in my opinion, has the only emotional impact on the player when it comes to key characters dying throughout the three Modern Warfare games. The player is partway through the game and, in some sense, has grown attached to this character. Near the end of the level that this event occurs in a friendly chopper is shot down and, even after being told that should they land to rescue the downed pilot, they may not make it out of the blast zone. Upon landing the player is given only 1 minute and 30 seconds to make it down to one end of the alley, and back again with the injured pilot. After grabbing the pilot the player has no means to defend themselves from the unlimited number of enemies pouring out of nearby houses and connecting alleys.

The player is back in the air again and feels safer now then they have throughout the entire game...and then it happens. The nuke goes off, 'copters right behind the one the player is in are brought down one right after the other, the blast wave finally reaches the 'copter the player is in, you go spinning out of control, the crew member standing next you loses his hold and is launched into the air. Then, just before you hit the ground, everything goes black and you hear the sound of crunching metal.

At this point the player is thinking "Wait, what just happened? Can they do that?" The next level loads and you are still playing as Sergeant Jackson. You try standing up and the screen gets a little fuzzy, you take a few steps only to fall back down(causing some damage). Finally you make it to the opening at the back end of the 'copter that you woke up in and fall to the ground, nearly blacking out again. You can still see the mushroom cloud from the nuke blast. Now able to move again you get to your feet and slowly shuffle your way towards a playground. You hear the echo of children laughing as they play, Sergeant Jackson stops and falls to the ground again for the last time, everything goes white.

I Almost Started Crying At This Point

Now the player is thinking "I'm dead...the character is dead, no matter how well I did I still died, what's to keep the developers from killing off Soap?" That thought fallows you throughout the rest of the game.

By the end of Modern Warfare 3 I felt that this moment was ruined. Throughout the next two games, memorable characters start dropping like flies and finally at the death that should have hit the player the hardest  I felt nothing. I should have felt sad, angry, or even shocked that Soap died. This character that I had played as in the first two games and struggled at one or two points in the third to keep alive died, and I didn't care because I expected it to happen after the deaths of many other characters had fallen to the same fate only a short time before. Named or unnamed, soldiers or civilians, the death of a character had no more emotional impact then when I might step on an ant.

But then this all brings to mind two other games that implements the death of the player character very well but, in my opinion, ruin these deaths with DLC. That's right, the two games I speak of are Red Dead Redemption and Fallout 3.

One game with a great story, the other with a fantastic world to explore(all those distractions in Fallout 3 kept me from getting too attached to the story itself), both with DLC that makes the death of both characters feel a little on the cheap side.

All throughout Red Dead Redemption you are put in some tight situations all because the government says that they will clear your record and allow you to have a fresh start. Eventually you are able to live a semi-quiet life ranching.

A Well Earned Rest

Up to this point the player and Marston believe that it is finally over, this feeling is short live however. John Marston's job given to him was to eliminate the members of a gang he used to ride with, and up until this point he had done a fairly well. The only problem was that he forgot someone, it becomes apparent who that someone is when a posse comes riding up to his house that that someone is John Marston. Seeing no way out for both himself and his family, John gets his family safely away and guns down a few of the gun fighters before being taken down himself.

This is another incredible end to a character as you were there during his struggle to get is life back, and was able to see the part of his life that he had been fighting for the entire time. This death was not cheapened(again, my opinion) by being put into Jack Marston's boots, but by the Undead Nightmare DLC. Don't get me wrong, I loved this DLC up until the end. At the end of that DLCs story, John is brought back from the dead, cursed(?)to roam the west, killing other zombies. Thankfully it's non-canon and a really fun 'What If?' scenario, but one that still poked that bit in the back of my mind complaining that this just wasn't right. Good game, good character, good DLC, bad reason to complain.

After two or three times through the DC wasteland I finally managed to sit myself down and only play the story missions(combine that with what I knew about the rest of the missions in the wastes it was a really fun run through the game). This was it, I spent hour after hour playing the game and making only choices that I myself would make if I was there. I'm at the end of the game and I have one last choice to make before it is all over. Do I live, or die?

It Began Here, It Should Have Ended Here

At this time in the game I wasn't thinking "Do I want the good ending, bad ending, or neutral ending?" I was thinking "Ever since I left the vault, I've done more good in the wasteland in a shorter amount of time then this person standing next to me. But this person is part of something bigger then myself, and has been fighting for it far longer then I myself have. She have power armor, which gives her some protection against the radiation, I only have leather armor(I was to big a fan of Mad Max to want to change to something else) and have no chance of survival should I go in there." These and many other thoughts went through my mind until I finally decided that I would be the one to die. I had decided that, because she was part of something that up until this point was focused on the burdens of other wastelanders she would be the one to survive. At the time it seemed logical that, once the water was purified, it would make it much easier for the Brotherhood of Steel to go about their business. The next time I played Fallout 3 was after I downloaded Broken Steel. I loaded my final save file, made the same decision, and watched as my character woke up back at BoS headquarters only to find out that I was knocked out from a bit of radiation poisoning. No lasting effects, nothing, life goes on as if I had never made such an important decision.

It is these three moments that make me wonder, are developers afraid to give a definite end to a character? Even in games where the character does die and there is no DLC to say "hey, that wasn't actually the end" they sometimes try to hint at how the character might not have died. In the end, all I can do is hope that with the next generation of consoles giving developers a chance to try something new, some of them will take the chance to build some games around stories with a more tragic ending to them. Where the choices that the player, or character, make have weight and lasting effect to them.

I'd like to thank Saint and Hist for being the reason for me posting this blog. Thanks again for featuring me as the 50th member to be herded, Saint. And thank you Hist for asking so an awesome question.

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