Moral Choice is Overrated
If you decide to skip to the end of this article, hop from picture to picture, or even click on all the links at random, it will not matter. The ending will still be the same: Moral choice is becoming the new sudden stabbing. It’s a tired trend, and it’s time we let it go.
Alternate endings used to solely be the stuff of DVDs, something that wasn’t earned. They were given by the creators of what you were watching. They weren’t influenced by how much you liked a certain character over another, or even your merit as a consumer of that movie. It was a gift unto you, by the people who made what you just watched.
But then they ventured into video games. First with secret endings, then to dynamic alternative endings. Now instead of being linear, the outcome of a video game would be directly tied to a player’s actions. More often than not, they’re tied to moral choices within the game. Do you shoot your captives, or let them live? It all comes back to haunt you in the end.
Dynamic endings used to make for very interesting games, key phrase being “used to.” Now, this former treat of gameplay has become an expectation. We’re intoxicated by the possibility of being able to influence our own gaming experience. And along the way, we’re not engaged in the game itself.
And it’s not like moral choices make sense with every game genre. Only games with dozens of If/Then choices (like Catherine or Fallout: New Vegas) can portray morality in any manner remotely resembling reality. These are both RPGs (Catherine admittedly less so), specifically designed for players seeking a personalized experiences. Choice affecting a situation’s ending makes perfect sense within these genres.
But do we need alternative endings within adventure games? In first-person shooters? Not necessarily. These games don’t always demand complete immersion, let alone moral conflicts. The possibility of seeing an alternative ending makes players focus on the ending of the game, to the detriment of their experience in the moment. If you’re busy wondering what choices will lead to an ending you want, you won’t make decisions in the moment. Which, by the way, takes away the entire point of having branching endings period.
Which brings up the main reason of why dynamic endings should be removed: Technology has caught up with the stories game developers have always wanted to tell. It’s now possible to create any undersea kingdom or spaceship a game imaginable, as long as you know how to code and model it correctly. Detail in the here and now is now possible in video games. Dynamic endings are no longer needed in order to take the story seriously.
Dynamic endings will never go away entirely, and they shouldn’t. They make gameplay more fun, and entire communities have been built up around finding all the alternative endings behind certain games. They make sense within certain genre setups. But we no longer need multiple endings to make video games detailed and complex. The technology needed to make games with intricate storytelling is finally here. We can handle “straight games” more than ever, because the journey to get to the end will be more entertaining than ever.