Tag Archives: Minecraft

Video Game Endings Suck: The In-Game Existential Crisis

I can think of three general ways to end a video game. Firstly, there are games that don’t have a plot or a story to even end: think of multiplayer first-person shooter/battle royale games like Fortnite, Apex, or Black Ops IV. You can probably toss simulation and puzzle games into this category too; Microsoft Flight Simulator doesn’t have a plot or an ending. You just fly around and when you’re done you’re done. The same is true for Tetris. The second way to end a game is to, well, end it. These games have a plot and story and obviously the developers have to wrap it up somehow. There are a few ways to do this as well. They can end the game in a “harsh” where you can no longer play the game. Think of Dark Souls or Bioshock Infinite. When the game is over, the game’s over. There’s also the “open-ended” endings in this category where despite beating the main quest you are still able to play the game. Skyrim is a great example here. You kill Alduin, save the world, yet you can still wander around and do shit afterwards. These games have a clear ending to the main quest. There is a point where you’ve clearly beaten the game.

By far the worst way to end a game is to have no ending. I’m not talking about the plotless multiplayer games from above either: I’m talking narrative and story-driven open world games that are so open ended there is no ending. The Sims, Kerbal Space Program, Minecraft, and Stardew Valley are all great examples of games with no endings.

On the surface this all sounds like a great idea: with a game that is open and neverending you can play forever, right? No. These games do have endings even if they’re not explicitly stated; their endings are much more depressing when you think about them too much. These games end in the in-game equivalent of existential depression: the eventual realization that there is nothing else to do in the game. After the challenge is over, you have everything you could ever want or need, accomplished everything you’ve wanted to do, what option do you have besides giving up?

Not that these games lack story or gameplay progression which is usually in the form of crafting progression and/or unlocking items. The whole point of Minecraft survival mode seems to be unlocking items and finding materials. A good example are nether portals. To create these you usually need to craft a diamond pickaxe and diamond is one of the rarest things to find in the game. You need to bury deep within the ground to even find diamond, so unlocking a nether portal (to unlock all of the nether-unique items) takes some work. It gives you something to progress towards. Even if there is no actual narrative story, you have something to drive you further into the game.

Stardew Valley — the main inspiration of this post because it depicts a relatively believable story, farming — uses items to drive progression. The requirement to water your crops everyday adds a huge incentive to upgrade the watering can, which costs money and ores, which in turn requires a large farm, which itself requires an upgraded watering can, which requires exploring the mines, which requires the item to smelt ore. This singular goal — upgrade the watering can — is one of the primary struggles in Stardew Valley. As I hope you can understand now, upgrading the watering can involves hours of gameplay and progression. Carrying the watering mechanic to its limit are the sprinklers; items that automatically water crops daily without you doing a damn thing. Obviously they are a massively sought after item. The best sprinkler requires iridum, a ridiculously rare crafting ingredient that is most easily found in the Skull Cavern. Stardew Valley is fantastic by giving you natural gameplay incentive to progress throughout the game. Most items you unlock make the game easier or your farm more efficient. Progressing through the game is just a struggle to make your life easier!

These games work amazingly well until you run out of incentives to progress. Minecraft is especially terrible because once you’ve built yourself three golden castles towering into the sky, then what? You literally have everything you can even need or want in the game, so what do you do? The same is true in Stardew Valley as it’s another one of the “endless games” that you can play for literal years in-game with no completion. Once you’ve developed the community center and have millions of dollars, then what? When you have a massive farm that prints money all by itself with minimal effort and input from you, then what? After you’re married and had a few kids, then what? Eventually Stardew, and all games like this, reach a point where there is no incentive to play anymore. You’re bored with your in-game life and there isn’t anything else to drive you forward. Your in-game life literally becomes pointless and eventually you simply stop playing. It’s an in-game existential crisis. You question your purpose and what the meaning of all your progress even was. Sure you had fun playing the game, but now what?

It isn’t difficult to allow this dreaded outlook to bleed into your view of life in general. Usually success IRL is a lot more difficult than success in Stardew Valley (imagine trying to have a successful farm on your own IRL), Minecraft (imagine trying to live in the woods and survive for years with absolutely nothing except what you can personally create), or in any other “neverending” game, but the slight and ever-present sense of nihilism depicted in the end of these games always seems to underscore life itself. I just don’t think we ever get to that point in life where you can ask yourself “now what?” Life is so difficult, complicated, and multifaceted that I don’t think anyone can ever feel like they’ve “beaten life” like you can in a video game. There’s always something else to challenge you. But still, some part of me imagines this happening someday especially to certain people. Those who have a nice house, so much money that they don’t know what else to spend it on, and where life appears to have been beaten. I’m imagining this is how Olympic athletes and sports stars feel: their lives are so one-dimensional and filled with a singular goal that once it’s achieved — they win the gold medal or the Superbowl or whatever — that they might feel this crushing and final question of “now what?” that I always feel at the end of certain video games. I feel really sorry for these people and I don’t know if I’m lucky or not by thinking that I’ll never reach the end of what I want to accomplish in life. I don’t think I’ll ever be asking myself “now what,” but what if that means I never reached the end of the game? Like I hadn’t properly beaten it? What if that means I’ve failed?

Life Sucks (as a Video Game)

The author Kurt Vonnegut touched upon the idea that everyone thinks they’re the protagonist of the world they’re in and everyone else are NPCs — the people that only exist to serve the protagonist. Check this out from his novel Breakfast of Champions:

I thought Beatrice Keedsler had joined hands with other old-fashioned storytellers to make people believe that life had leading characters, minor characters, significant details, insignificant details, that it had lessons to be learned, tests to be passed, and a beginning, a middle, and an end.

He then goes on to blame the current state of society on this flawed outlook promoted by stories, writers, and other artists. It’s a decent book, Check it Out!

Stevie!

I don’t think we all have that extremely dark view of society but I do think most of us view ourselves as “the primary hero” while other people are just sort of there. I also think the only people that really get outside of that worldview are probably Buddhist monks or something. This obviously becomes a problem because, well, we’re probably not the main character and are most likely random NPCs ourselves. By thinking you’re the hero and living a pretty average and mundane life you think you’re a total failure. You’re not saving the world so what are you even doing?

Video games are guilty of promoting this worldview and self-image in everyone the same as other forms of entertainment. In games you usually play as a hero and do some hero shit like saving the world or defeating some Evil Power™. This obviously isn’t realistic and considering that, what would a game be like that was as accurate to real life as possible? Many games have mechanics that simulate parts of real life (the Grand Theft Auto series comes to mind) but those occurs on a superficial level. Sure you can drive cars like in real life but the lack of consequences in GTA breaks any real comparison. The Sims do a good job too, especially with the game-breaking existential crisis that inevitably occurs after playing for too long. Real life also has much more due to chance while games put you in charge of nearly everything. So, what would that game look like?

To start, it’d be boring and no one would want to play it. The Life Game would consists of you doing some stupid and boring task for hours and hours while earning hardly any useful in-game cash. Everything you need to buy is also really expensive. Instead of buying the best car ever you can only afford a shitty, 15-year-old vehicle to get you to and from work just so you can continue to make shitty money. Food also takes up the rest of the cash you earn. It’d be hours upon hours of absolute nothingness to just buy food and other essential items.

As the game starts you could randomly die as well. This is mostly dependent upon where you’re born which is totally due to chance. You could spawn in a poor country and die in the first few minutes thanks to malnourishment or disease and there’s nothing you can do to change your fate. Once you start the game that’s what you are given. You could end up in a decent area where healthcare is abundant, but you could also, by chance, end up in a shithole and die within a short timespan.

You could be born into a family that has tons of money, but that would be really rare. Once again you don’t have any choice in all of that because it’s all random. Being rich would also take all the fun out of The Life Game because you can do whatever you want with little to no challenge. At least starting off poor gives you a challenge somewhat. If you’re not starting off in abject poverty that is.

Another fun aspect of The Life Game is that you could randomly die at anytime. You could be in the safest area possible but someone could randomly kill you with a bus or a gun or whatever. Sometimes even airplanes fall onto your house although that is reserved for only the most unluckiest people. The same is true for lightning. But the fact is that anyone could die at anytime with little to no warning. The Life Game doesn’t care about what quest your on or how important you are or how much cash you have and you’ll just randomly die.

The most interesting aspect of The Life Game would be the lack of a main quest. You’d think this might be fun because you can “make your own goals” but after a few hours the gameplay just lacks meaning. It’ll be like Minecraft or The Sims where you have a pretty decent time exploring and learning the game mechanics and creating useless bullshit, but then the lack of a main quest gets to you. Eventually in Minecraft or The Sims you look around the world and realize this is it. Then you quit playing because you’re bored and the game is meaningless. The same happens in Kerbal Space Program after you’ve explored the entire solar system. There simply isn’t anything left to do. The same would happen in The Life Game because there’s no reason or purpose for you to be there. There are side quests to accomplish but those are usually shitty by giving you little reward for completing them or by being too hard to actually accomplish in the first place. You could sell your furniture on Craigslist or get a PhD in astrodynamics for example. Or you could blog about how shitty The Life Game is. But you don’t have to because they’re side quests. There is no world to save, no overarching evil to destroy, and no princess to save. You could just do nothing. So what do you even do in this game?

And one last thing: The Life Game only lets you play once. Some people think that you might get to play multiple times but they don’t know that for sure. If you’re the unlucky soul that dies in the first five minutes of the game, well, too bad but that’s all you get! The ones who make it farther into the game should feel special for doing so well, but since the game is so shitty no one really feels good about it. Hell, some people even quit the game on purpose. That’s how terrible The Life Game is.

If life was a video game is would fucking Suck. There wouldn’t be a main quest and the difficulty curve would be ridiculous but in a really lame and cheap way. You’d just die randomly and without good cause. Sometimes you’d just die as soon as you started the game, once again without cause or reason. Some people spawn in ridiculously privileged ways and others are spawned in ridiculously unfair conditions. You dick around trying to keep yourself busy but since there isn’t a main quest nothing ever seems very pointful. The Life Game Sucks.