We’ve forgotten how to let go when it comes to storytelling. Not just in video games, but in other mediums too. In a world filled with sequels, prequels, spinoffs, reimaginings, remakes, and remasters, moving on has never been so difficult. The business case for this boils down to the lunacy of a given company setting a captive audience free. Why do we think Disney has Marvel movies scheduled decades into the future? If that cash horse keeps paying out, why try to feed it anything else?
The same dynamic exists in video games with the rise of live-service products. Instead of making new video games every couple of years, companies are make just one and then add to it for years in the future. MMOs were the original proprietors of this, most notable being World of Warcraft. Here we are on our eighth expansion now with no end in sight. Much like TV shows that don’t know when to quit, more and more video games tend to keep going as long as there is enough appetite for it.
It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg scenario that’s at work here. Do the fans honestly want to live in one virtual world that continues to grow, or have companies conditioned fandoms to stay as siloed as they are? I’m not sure, but even when there wasn’t this need to keep updating a game, the backlog was vast. Now, it seems impossible. There are only so many battle passes a guy like me can afford.
So the question becomes whether or not its healthy for all these different worlds to live in perpetuity. Saying goodbye is hard, but sometimes it’s important to do so. That feeling of accomplishment is unmatched. The feeling of coming to the end of a journey with a cast of characters you’ve grown to know and love is euphoric. It’s the great and loving archival of an epic experience. It’s giving the close of a journey the send-off it deserves.
As we think about stories, is it better to cede more and more of the storytelling to the user instead of the creator of a world? How do we balance giving gamers the tools necessary to define their experience and preserving the authenticity of the art? The answers lie in how we define the point of video games at large. If we’re speaking of art, then the goal should be to deliver an experience that challenges our preconceived notions, shines a light on ourselves, and provides a compelling vision of the future, for better or worse.
Game developers exist to tell the stories that need to be told. Letting gamers run rampant in a virtual world without end only serves as an escape from reality. Gaming is so much more than that. Gaming is art, and art is meant to deliver a radical feeling or a thought that sticks with you long after the art itself has faded from memory.
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