A lousy ending is the worst sin a piece of fiction can commit. For all the accusations being thrown at gamers for being “entitled” when it comes to the way game are made, the demand for better crafted denouements is by far the most sympathetic to me. Crafting a compelling opening to your story to get the audience hooked is important, but if the ending fails to satisfy, the whole world suffers. Without a good ending to stick in people’s minds, a game becomes far less memorable and far less important.
No matter how you slice it, a crappy ending always feels like a slap in the face. Whether you are a ten-year-old kid using up your allowance to rent the hottest new game your friends keep talking about, or a forty-something office worker with a backlog a mile high, you want to feel validated in the investment you put in your hobby. Video gaming has always been an expensive endeavor, so you would think game developers would go out of their way to make sure the people who are willing to put down $50 on their product walk away feeling a sense of accomplishment when they reach the end credits. Unfortunately, we gamers have suffered more boring “Congratulations!” screens than should be considered humane to inflict upon society.
An ending is more than just a conclusion to a story. An ending should present the ultimate thesis on what the story was trying to say and leave the audience with something to roll around in their heads the next day. A player should be haunted by the final moments in a game. When a person wakes up in the morning still thinking about the epic boss battle they finally conquered or the sweet theme tune they heard during the end credits or a big plot twist they never saw coming, then a game has done its job right. Despite how much importance we all place on first impressions, it is always the final moments we remember the most and that stick with us the longest.
It is easy to want to hook a player with an interesting first level to keep them wanting more. It is a smart marketing strategy which has paid off for many a developer back in the days when we rented our NES carts from local video shops for two dollars a night. Over and over again we would invest money into games like Super Mario Bros. 2, fantasizing of what the final moments of these epic journeys might give us. These fantasies would eventually be shattered by the cold hard lack of imagination on the part of the development team. All the time, money, and hard work we put into the game we supported ultimately feels wasted.
Without solid conclusions, games are nothing more than trinkets to be thrown away once they have served their purpose. When a game fails to deliver a satisfying ending, the developers are essentially admitting to creating something disposable and without consequence. Without a solid conclusion, a developer is essentially admitting that their game is not worth the amount of thought and energy it would take to craft a proper send off to the product they have created. The games we remember most fondly from our youth were the games that gave us a feeling of accomplishment. The games we cherish made us feel like we had slayed the dragon, rescued the princess, and saved the world. No game should ever end with a black screen mean to hook you in for a sequel which may never see the light of day.
Games are important to us, and as such they deserve to be remembered. A good ending adds punctuation to a game, giving it a final stamp of “This is what this game was about and why you should give a crap.” The final moments of a game are the most important, as they are what we will stick with us long after we put down the controller. Some may see them as superfluous, but without a good ending, what do we have to look back on?