When It Comes to Game Endings, Would You Rather Be Happy or Satisfied?


Does anyone have examples of the sort of academic essay Austin talked about?

Also I’ll just throw out some similarly cyclical endings: (could be spoilery? idk) Black Sails, Person of Interest


I’m incredibly conflicted about fan work. When I was younger I used to write my own fanfic for games on an old Mac with The Amazing Writing Machine but as I got older and got into mapping for games like HL2, TF2, and mods and hanging out with other creative people online my stance shifted.

It feels really bad to say this but I find myself often looking at someones fan work and thinking “You clearly have talent but instead of being original and standing out you instead released something that is going to be lost amongst the rest of the fan work and doesn’t show your true potential”. I think my perception of fan fiction is that it’s a good area for young and new fiction writers to learn how to write and accept criticism but there should be a certain point where you have learned enough to apply it to your own original works.

I guess I sort of need to explain where I am coming from with this feeling by explaining the Source Engine community creative culture. Decompiling someones map is incredibly easy, so what you end up with is popular maps for a game getting a ton of different derivative versions that really do nothing to make themselves stand out. This happens to both official and community created maps. No one ever asks permission they just edit then get labelled a lazy thief and act shocked that the person who originally made it would get mad at them.

And it’s really mostly that permission part that bothers me the most. You spend a lot of time making a map and balancing it only to have some random person come along that you have never met and they looked at your map and said “This is cool but it needs to be fixed” and then proceed to do unsanctioned changes that they then rerelease under their name. No I spent a lot of time balancing the map so that the zombie team wins 80% of the time, it’s meant to be hard for the survivors you making it easy and adding in two poorly made buildings is really insulting.

It’s why the Beginners Guide, which was built on the Source Engine by someone who was/is a part of the community, meant a lot to me because it was clear that part of the message of that game was directed at the Source Engine community and it’s section of mappers who do nothing but modify other people’s work without considering the original author at all.

Things like the Star Wars expanded universe never bothered me though because to me it was the original creator granting permission to these other people to do things with established characters and add new ones with the understanding that they can always retcon your work. But when it comes to people using other people’s characters without permission I’m out because I know I would not like it at all if someone decided to take a character I spent a lot of time fleshing out and decided to claim it as their own and use them as a puppet in their story. It feels like unintentional malice on the part of the fan fiction writers who don’t take into consideration if the creator(s) would be okay with what they are doing with their character(s).

Like if someone ever makes a fan fiction that modifies the ending of the Animorph series or the events after it I think they need to sit down and take a good five minutes thinking about if that is warranted or not when it’s completely clear the author had a very specific vision in mind for how that series should end and leave you feeling.

Also I just can’t really get behind people thinking they need to use X character or else their plot doesn’t work. How much creativity does one lack if they can’t boil a character like Batman down to his base traits and build a character based on similar traits while swapping some out for things you think would make them more interesting and unique. This is like things we would do as kids on the playground how have we lost this ability as we have gotten older? It feels like a cop out for not wanting to put in effort to make a new character.

I really want to understand fan fiction creators more because there has to be something I’m not understanding about it and it feels unjust for me to just blindly label them all but at the moment I can’t help but feel the way I do about their work. If someone here writes fan fiction and wants to explain to me why it is they do so instead of making something original I would greatly appreciate the explanation.

Honestly you could easily do this so long as you do it using Source because all Valve cares about is the money they are getting. You could tell them you want to sell a dart game where you throw Gman and they would just send you the paperwork to sign.

During the Greenlight era they would even often ask mods that were getting in if instead of giving it away for free if they would instead be more interested in creating an LLC and signing their licensing deal and selling it.

Everyone thinks highly of Valve because they let people do whatever they want with their IP but it’s because they realized they can make more money just letting people sell their fan HL2/Portal mod because narratively they are done with the series. They really do not care as long as they get their cut. Just watch some gameplay videos of “Hunt Down the Freeman” to get an idea of just how little they care.


There’s the Metal Gear Solid 4 style of game series ending that exhaustively closes every loop, is dripping with fan service, and even explains some things that don’t need explaining. (Like why Vamp is Vamp.) I actually hate this kind of ending, BioShock Infinite’s DLCs attempting something similar too. A truly great ending should settle the characters and put them in a good logical place. But it doesn’t need to close every door and answer every question, there should still be some mystery or something left over. The whole universe shouldn’t collapse into ordered logic when Solid Snake meets Big Boss - especially since they kept making sequels anyway well past the grand finale. Especially because a lot of the time the answers the creators give for things are a lot less interesting than you had in mind or ruin the magic of the world.

I’d agree with Patrick about the Witcher 3 DLC’s ending being perfect. Mainly because this is exactly the ending Geralt was dreaming of in the last book of the Saga right before everything goes wrong at the end. It’s a life Geralt is completely wrong for being a warrior loner slightly Mary Sue badass type, but its a life he deserves after all he’s been through. It also is just the ending of Geralt, not the entire universe. There’s still an Empire, there’s still witches, there’s still space elves. You could do a sequel in the Witcher universe.

But if you do a sequel starring Geralt I’ll throw a chair.


I don’t have much to add to what others have said, except to agree that: a satisfying ending will also make me “happy” in the abstract sense that satisfaction does, even if it’s sad/depressing/etc in the moment. A happy ending which isn’t satisfying will not.
(Some of the best fiction has sad endings, but they’re also the “right ending” for the plot and characters. I always think of games like Transistor in this context: the ending is bittersweet enough in the “right” way to have made me cry the first time I saw it… but it’s also the most satisfying ending for the game, and having Red just get her lover back and restore the city would be missing the entire point.

I stopped playing the Mass Effect games 75% of the way through the first one, but I always thought the valid criticisms of the ME3 endings were rooted in their lack of satisfaction - weird space macguffin turns up and “fixes things”, without addressing lots of dangling plot threads - than how “happy” they were.)


Hi! I write fanfic and hope I might be able to shed some light on why some people see things differently than you. It’s okay if we still disagree in the end, though.

This got much longer than I expected! I guess I have feelings about fanworks!


I write and read fic in general not because I want to “fix” or “improve” a story, but because I love a piece of media and want to expand on and explore it. Maybe a character I loved only got a bit of backstory and I want to imagine what she was like before the canon story picked up, or I want to think about how that backstory affected her canon actions and write about how she was feeling and thinking in more detail than the author could afford to for whatever reason. Maybe I think two characters have an interesting relationship that I want to explore, or I really want them to hook up so I write something fun and self-indulgent. There are a lot of reasons people write fanfiction, and in my experience they’re rarely “I think I can do this better than the author” and frequently “what if x?” or “wouldn’t it be cool/funny/sad if y?”

It’s also worth mentioning that the first fic I ever wrote was… a personal “fix-it” ending to Mass Effect 3. I never published it anywhere, but I left that game pretty emotionally distraught and also very frustrated and unsatisfied with the conclusion to that world. I wanted to work through those feelings by writing an ending that hit the emotional beats I was interested in seeing. It was very cathartic and I think it was a decent piece of fiction, but I also never wrote it with the mentality that I was somehow doing a better job than the writers at Bioware.

Fanfic is more often about a personal celebration of a piece of fiction than it is about “editing” or making something “imperfect” “perfect.” As for respecting an author’s wishes – this isn’t something I’ve given much thought, because I come out on the other side of things. If I ever made something and people created fanworks for it I would be absolutely overjoyed! Still, if we’re thinking about fanfiction as something potentially explorative and interested in building on and playing around with the themes and components of a particular story, why is it necessarily different from, say, a piece of literary criticism about that story? I can write an essay about a compelling character and his motivations and development, or I can write a fic where I look at the same things! Both are enjoyable to me as projects, to others who read the piece, and in neither case have I declared myself the absolute authority on this character or the piece of media he comes from.

The literary criticism comparison is also why I see fic as inherently valuable in and of itself. Creating original work can be very fun, it’s just a different kind of writing. Exploring others’ stories and art is a rewarding endeavour, and not everyone wants to be a professional novelist. Additionally, writing fanfic and writing original fiction aren’t mutually exclusive - you don’t have to graduate from one to do the other.

In summary: fanfiction is good because it’s a fun way of exploring others’ stories, not unlike media criticism.


Completely agree. The game is largely about loss and loneliness and paranoia and it would have completely ruined the emotional weight of it if there actually was a massive conspiracy


Any other MGSV apologists out here?? (Not the Quiet stuff, that’s plain stupid and kind of embarrassing.) But the MSG series has been huge for me ever since I was a kid, and opened me up a lot at an aesthetically sensitive developmental period of my life. The image of the series in my head has always been one of individual agents caught in superficial, almost vapid geopolitical spaces, until their personhood is stylized and cartoonified into oblivion. For me the very end of MGSV wrapped up the series in an absolutely frustrating but VERY honest way: with a meaningless non-conclusion wherein it’s confirmed that this shell of an icon who we’ve culturally put so much into is literally just that. There is no person there, nor meaning, and the war will always continue. ANYWAY, idk if anyone else has felt that way; I’ve intentionally avoided reading pieces on that game because for all it’s flaws, it will always click for me


I didn’t have any issues with where the story for MGSV left off, and frankly anyone expecting closure in the middle of a story is fooling themselves from go. My biggest issue with the MGSV ending is that it relies on a narrative cheat.


I think the ending should be satisfying rather than happy. like sure I’m all for people getting happy endings but if you had to really force that conclusion it’s not interesting. During this episode of Waypoint radio thy spent a while talking about the Mass Effect 3 ending so i thought I’d share part of why I liked the way it ended.
In Mass Effect 2 you obviously have a bunch of folks to romance. If you romanced Jack (Acknowledging that to do so you need to be Male Shep and that’s kinda fucked) then in the third game you’re given a choice. You see Jack a total of twice in ME3 once in person where you decide whether or not Sheppard is going to continue that relationship and then as a hologram before the final mission. If you continue that relationship then during that final conversation Jack tells you to come back to her. So in the final moments of the game you have an added layer. Probably the first long term healthy relationship either of them have ever had. So the choice whether it leads to shepps death or not has a bit of extra weight. There’s someone out there waiting for you and this decision will effect them on a deeper level than anyone else. I enjoyed the ending more because I had chosen to maintain this relationship (I couldn’t bring myself to end my relationship with Jack) and it added another layer of meaning onto Sheppards choice. They fell in love and got to meet once after the events that brought them together to start, my Shepp died with Jacks name on his lips and love in his heart.
TL;DR- Continuing the relationship from the previous game added another layer of meaning to the ending in ME3 and colored my positive view of the game. The ending may not have been happy, but the story had me satisfied.


This is maybe a more cynical utilitarian perspective on fan-works but it helps a lot for discoverability to make art with some sense of familiarity to it. I can only speak to fan-art, but something people are already into has an easier time being shared and appreciated with a love for the characters it’s based on.
A lot of the reason I personally do fan-art is through my love for a character or their design, and sometimes you want a little break from creating original ideas.

@marxistjohncena re: MGSV story I didn’t mind much how it ended, it’s actually what worked the most for me in the game, it was more everything in the middle that didn’t click.
Everything about the language virus, the skulls, the stuff with the child soldiers that barely went anywhere, everything about Skullface, the whole premise of re-introducing Volgen, and it was just Kojima going way too hard on the supernatural and I never felt like it did anything for the overall narrative.

I think I would’ve preferred something more focused, it felt like a bunch of endless generic military missions, a bunch of quiet surreal cutscenes, and then eventually only a handful of actual story beats.
Say what you will about the convolution of the MGS’s overall story and the ridiculousness of the clone premise, and all the quadruple agents and whatnot, the previous games at least felt like well crafted stories with arcs, motivations and goals.


It’s a weird question because by and large, most game endings kind of suck. They’re made pointless by necessity a lot of times, so many games are built around the framework of “big bad is bad, become big good to beat big bad then roll credits.” The mechanics of so many games are rooted in combat and triumph that the game can’t pause and reflect because shining a light on what you’ve done to get to the end would be somewhat horrifying.

Take RE4 as an example, one of my all time favorite games and one I just replayed on a lark that turned into getting 100% of everything again. You rescue Ashley, you defeat Saddler, and Ada gets the sample for those meddling pharmaceutical paramilitary conglomerates. You can’t really take a moment to pause because if you did, you’d realize that you personally just eliminated the population of a small European community, and those that are left are infected with a horrifying mutant parasite. Congratulations…?


What I crave more is the “satisfyingly unsatisfactory” ending.

Both Twin Peaks season 2 and 3 fit this bill. Season 2 was the ending for 25 years until part 3 and they’re both cliffhangers, maybe. It’s a twist of intrigue that leads back into the original narrative. No Country For Old Men’s end isn’t final or conclusive, the plot is over but not everything was resolved.

A more comical example is when I first got Kanye’s Dark Fantasy, an issue occurred while ripping so “who will survive in America” was complete silence. Instead the abrupt halt of “Lost in the World” was the end of the album, followed by a 4’33” esque moment of silence.

Conversely, just because an ending is abrupt or leaves questions unresolved doesn’t mean it’s good. Half-Life 1 and 2 and ep2 have bad endings. One could argue ep2 shouldn’t count, but it is the last released plot advancement.

E: Happy endings only matter if they work. An ending that is happy for the sake of being happy is kitsch.


For me, the answer to this question largely depends on why I’m playing the game in question. When I’m playing a game just for fun and escapism or to stomp some bad guys in a kickass power fantasy, I want a happy ending to nicely tie up how great a job I did. But when I’m playing games for the narrative/fiction or a lot of games that are trying to be art first and entertainment second, then I want an ending that feels true to the fiction, even if it’s bleak or unsatisfying in the traditional sense.

I also think when judging a game’s ending it’s important to keep in mind which of the above two things the game is trying harder to be. It’s unfair to expect a complex and nuanced ending from a game that’s primarily about kicking ass and taking names, and it’s also unfair to expect a neatly wrapped up happy ending from a game that’s obviously challenging traditional game narratives.


Right, but a “complex and nuanced ending” isn’t necessary for the ending to be satisfying. (I think the phrasing of the podcast title and thread title is an obviously false dichotomy - lots of satisfying endings are also happy.) In both the cases in your first paragraph, what you want is an ending which is satisfying - in the sense that it feels like a “proper ending”.

The question should be: would you rather have an ending which was “happy”, even if it didn’t fit the rest of the narrative?


I am not sure that I understand the happy versus satisfied dichotomy for this topic. If an ending to any work is incongruous and/or doesn’t feel honest with what came before it, I think that it is bad. I would want an ending to make some sort of sense as to what came before it. I also think that unhappy endings can also be unearned as well. The ending of The Dark Knight springs to mind when I think of a bad ending that was dark.


I was trying to think of an obviously unsatisfying unhappy ending and couldn’t think of a really good one, but yeah, The Dark Knight is that.

I think the topic is definitely making some assumptions about “easy happy endings” - but it’s also true that (as discussed in the 'cast itself), the agency that videogames can give us means that “happy” = “agency extends to the player getting all their desires” endings are a cheap default for this medium in a way they aren’t for non-interactive narrative media.


Thank you for saying all this so I didn’t have to, basically! Some people in fandom are just hobbyists. It’s okay to be a hobbyist. There are so many stories of frustration I’ve heard form people who write fic or do fanart and hear a lot of “well are you making money off this” and “why don’t you do something you can sell?”

Now I’m genuinely someone trying to do that, but that’s a recent development, and I know what it’s like to hear you’re ‘wasting your talent’. People aren’t. They are creating things they want to see. Sometimes that is its own reward, and often these are people with careers and lives and families already, and their fandom content is just a hobby. We need to let people, especially women, have hobbies.


Thanks for the awesome response! This definitely cleared up some of my confusion on the subject :+1:


I pretty much only like happy endings. But I also usually only go for things that I know will have a happy ending. I avoid stuff I know are going to bum me out, for the most part, because I’m a big emotional baby.


That is definitely a read on MGSV that I’ve had similar thoughts on It almost felt like Kojima saying, you made this series and this character relevant, and now you get to choose how it feels at the end - it almost becomes legitimised fan fiction.

I think its especially interesting as the threads that it is directly tying up (MG 1 + 2) are ones that 90% of players will only know about through reading wikis, or through watching LPs / Speed runs. Other than that we only know Big Boss from the final third of MGS4 .

Oh, and I’ve just remembered, Cameron Kunzleman did a good piece in a similar vein right here !