There is a trope in film and media known as “Now What?” It is a type of ending where a big reveal happens or everything comes to a head, but then…it just ends. It’s different from a cliff hanger, as it isn’t abrupt or leaves anything unresolved. While the movie or game may be over, the protagonist’s life continues on. From here the audience can fill in the rest of the story with whatever they so choose, because the specifics don’t matter; what matters is that the protagonist now has to live with the consequences of the new revelation or a life altering decision.
Stories that employ the “Now What” ending commonly end with a conclusive scene, like pulling back the curtain to reveal the inner workings, or the couple getting together at the last moment. More broadly the protagonist has achieved the singular goal around which his or her prior existence revolved around: A superhero with no more bad guys to thwart, or a doctor who’s cured an incurable disease. In video games this is commonly employed in a final scene where the protagonist walks away toward the sunset having defeated the Big Bad, thus preventing any more foreseeable threats in the future. There is no hint of another boss, no hidden calling card of the man who is really pulling the strings. Just the protagonist walking away, with his singular purpose achieved.
With out spoiling anything, a notable game that employed this was Knights of the Old Republic 2. Not the retail version, but Cut Content version put together by a group of modders from files recovered in the game. The version that included an entire additional sequence on Telos where Bao-Dur sacrifices himself so that The Exile and HK-47 may reach the HK-50 Droid Factory and shut it down. More to the point, the modders uncovered a completely new sequence of events on the final planet. In the Cut Content version of the game it ends with the Exile and crew flying away from Malachor V in the Ebon Hawk. Atton then ask, “ So… Where are we going now?” After which it, fade to black. The ending that could have been is the quintessential “Now What” ending.
ENDING SPOILERS FOR BIOSHOCK INFINITE AHEAD
Which brings us to the point of this foray into ending plot devices of games and movies. In my book, Bioshock: Infinite’s ending is most definitely a “Now What” situation. To recap, the protagonist, after conquering Songbird and employing him to defend the Hand of the Prophet to destroy the siphon, is then thrust into 20 minutes of exquisite narrative culminating in several revelations. The revelation of particular interest to me is the revelation that the Bioshock universe exists in a multiverse, wherein every possible permutation of an infinite number of situations (the variables) are bound by three things: A man, a city and a lighthouse (the constants). Looking past what this revelation means for the game itself, this also serves as a very meta notice purposely addressed directly to the player. It suggests that Irrational can continue to make Bioshock games with that basic foundation for the next 100 years.
But does this mean they should? I believe that after giving gamers a glimpse behind the curtain, any game to follow would inevitably fall short. I fear that if Irrational goes the way of Ubisoft and makes Bioshock: Underground and Bioshock: Over the Moon within the next 3 years, they risk losing the good faith they have garnered. Inevitably, you will begin to get those people claiming franchise fatigue and brand dilution. And that would eventually culminating in entire threads and articles devoted to remembering when “Bioshock was good.” This may be cynical, but given the current circumstances, it is likely. This is not to knock the abilities of the people who devote the time to making Bioshock, but eventually the clock will run out and people will get bored.
Why not save us all some angst in the future and put the Bioshock franchise on the shelf where it will be forever remembered with rosiest of glasses? Why not keep the Bioshock franchise a landmark franchise in which you’ll have your kids play? The infinite ends that gamers come up in their heads are ultimately the only way gamers can be satisfied. The only way to feed an infinite appetite is with infinite possibilities. Again, I’d like to emphasize that I think the creative minds behind the Bioshock franchise are incredible, but wouldn’t we all like to see something new? I would personally much rather wait 4 years for Geoshock than wait 2 years for Bioshock Infinite 2. We’ve already seen the result of a franchise relying heavily of a single framework with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise, which many would argue is suffering all of the woes mentioned above: franchise fatigue and brand dilution beginning with Brotherhood. Even the announcement of a new Assassin’s Creed is more of a game for the Internet of guessing a time and place than genuine interest in the franchise direction. This is not to suggest that Bioshock will attempt to become an annual franchise, nor should it, but the trappings are there. And we should be wary.
We still have 3 bits of Story DLC in the future to give us a hint at the future of the franchise, but until then speculation is always enjoyable. Where do you want the Bioshock franchise to go? Would you want it to risk the disappointment of a new game or do you want it to end on a high note? Be sure to leave a comment below.
Image Courtesy: [Gamefront]