Tuesday, April 13, 2010

STFU, I'm Trying to Cry

Story is a very personal experience.  In the case of a good story, it grows with us as we grow, changes as we change, and becomes a part of us that is only more relevant as time goes on.  This is something I've found with Loom - despite all the games I've played in the meantime, it means as much to me now as ever, and my world-view is still very much in alignment with Bobbin's.  I may be twenty years older, and so may he, but we're still the same where it counts.

And Loom provided, for me, something more - it provided a sense of delayed gratification.  It allowed me to dream.  For those of you who haven't played the game and don't wish me to mildly spoil the ending, turn away now: but, you see, the story doesn't end.  It resolves, as all good stories should.  But it isn't over, not by a long shot.  And that's okay.

Over the years, I've found those are the games that I look to most, that I feel for the most, and that I love most deeply.  Stories that keep going, beyond the mere screen and into our imaginations, that allow us to dream of what yet might still be.  Bobbin may come back to save the world.  He is immortal now, of course.  He has all the time in the (other) world.  The Nameless One may make his way back to Sigil, even though he's part of the Blood War (and seeming to break all the rules about Petitioners, but that's another tale entirely).  District 9 had such an ending; that's the type of ending Avatar should have had.  I don't know when we started demanding closure, but it's ruining our imaginations.

Some movies, such as children's movies, benefit from a final ending.  Kung Fu Panda would be nothing if Po didn't defeat Tai Lung.  But when did we become so complacent in our own minds that we decided we wanted everything explained to us?  Did we ever really decide that at all?

What sparks this post is Bioshock 2, and its multiple endings.  I won't reveal spoilers, but suffice to say, once again, the morally ambiguous (but mildly good) ending is the best.  The bad ending is terrible, and the good ending is...  Well, I said no spoilers.  But it reminds me of The Suffering, where, the whole game, you're accused of killing your wife and children.  If you play through the game as though you're a criminal, you find out it wasn't really your fault.  Ah, but if you play through the game as if you're not guilty, and you make the game harder by never giving into rage, so you can retain your humanity and prove that you'd never do such a thing...  I believe that ending is the most horrible of all.

But all of these games, though they finish the player's journey, don't finish the question of story.  What happens next?  And I think that's important, to let us keep on dreaming.  There are more endings in our minds than any one company can create, and more variation in characters and setting than a thousand artists could paint.  We just need to know how to access it, and that means learning to believe.

Children believe in imagination.  They can believe anything is possible.  If you want to be creative, you need only close your eyes and remember, or watch a child at play.  As Violet Baudelaire says, "There's always something."  And as long as you keep imagining, as long as you keep keeping the world alive, there always will be.  The story isn't over because someone else told you so.  It's over when you let it be.

And so Bioshock 2, with its simple monologue, drowns all my pretentions of who my character was.  Far from the extremes, it melts instead into a kind of innocent incomprehension, which reminds me of my core as Delta: who I was, and will continue to be, long after that chapter is closed.  I doubt there is a time when someone mentions this game that I won't think of the look in Eleanor's eyes, and feel as any father would.  I know there will be a time, maybe no more than days from now, when I will remember the end of my journey without tears in my eyes, but for now, this sadness is precious to me.  It means the world touched me, and created something greater than itself.  For all that it guided me, these feelings are my own, and I treasure them in their intensity and despair.  I had loved, even a little while, and now the world moves on without me, as it should.  And this, too, is okay.

The ending of every game is a tiny death.  Whether that death is worthwhile or not is decided by what remains alive after the disc has stopped spinning.

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