I just finished Arkane Studio's Dishonored. The following concerns that game, though features no spoilers, and descends into an existential crisis about video games and life in general.
I enjoyed the game (despite the lack of breakable light bulbs), but towards the end I started to feel a bit bored. Perhaps the dour environment began to feel repetitive after a while, and the story headed towards an inevitable conclusion with no surprises. But more concerning, was that I began to feel this strange sensation that I was missing out on stuff. It was this nagging feeling plaguing me all throughout the last three chapters.
I guess that's a natural feeling when you play a game that has a binary morality system. You can finish the game with a 'good' or 'bad' ending. You get the good ending if you don't kill people as much. So choosing one particular play style leads to one outcome, which gives the game replayability, but still…what I felt was a feeling of dissatisfaction that one shouldn't feel when finishing a game. You should end a game satisfied and whole, nourished and content. Preferably exhilarated and so stunned that words fail to come to mind. You should lean back, spent. Perhaps light up a cigarette and discuss moving in togeth…wait, what was I talking about again?
Right, the feeling that you're not experiencing all of the game the first time you play. Yes, it's a shame, but what can you expect when you pick a pathway? And it's not just a linear game like Dishonored, but a more open sandbox game, like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, has a multitude of choices to make. A land filled with characters you can kill or help, storylines with different pathways. All leading you to level 50 and the main narrative's end, leaving in your wake many stories untold, many characters never met.
How strange it is then, that I didn't feel that I missed out on much with Skyrim once I put it behind me. (actually I felt I missed out on a game that could work properly on the PS3 for five consecutive minutes without bugging out, but anyway…). Maybe my dissatisfaction for Dishonored stemmed from the good/bad choice. Dishonored isn't really a game filled with many side quests or secrets. I think where some of my feeling of disgruntlement came from was a somewhat arbitrary decision to finalise what ending my story would get based on the rough number of deaths I caused. Even if they all deserved it, the horrible scumbags of Dunwall! Anyway.
However much I feel about walking away from Dishonored feeling discontent, I think I've been skirting around the real issue though. To paraphrase a level-headed Neo faced with the Kentucky Fried Architect in The Matrix Reloaded. "The problem is choice."
The problem is that in the game, as in real life, control is an illusion. You are never in control of life. Life just happens to you. What matters is how you react to it. How I reacted to Dishonored, and indeed every other video game, speaks a lot about me as the player, and as a person. Of course we can review a game and its conclusion to objective parameters, and judge it subjectively, but we should remember that the feelings video games invoke in us are not simply a one-way communication from the game-makers to us, but a two way street.
Dishonored's not a perfect game, and some dissatisfaction was warranted in my opinion (seriously, just let me shoot out the lights!), but I think what I'll take away from this experience is that I have issues when it comes to completing things. If I feel I haven't experienced everything, I get a bit anxious about it. There's so much media out there to consume, games, films, TV, books, music, anime, there's simply no way I will be able to consume it all. It's something I have to accept, and one way to start is to accept that I'm not going to see every nook and cranny of Dishonored, I'm not going to walk down every alley, I'm not going to open every door. I'm not going to see the good 'ending', because I didn't play the game as a pacifist, and I won't anytime soon. Because quite frankly I have a backlog of games to get through and I don't want to spend too much time on one.
Just take a deep breath, and move on. Sure I can just look at the ending on Youtube, but that's not the point. The point is you will never experience everything, and that's OK.
Because at least you played The Last of Us.
(You all played that right? OMG you're totally missing out if you didn't!)