There’s just one slight problem: they all stink on ice… suck like a vacuum cleaner… and other more colourful, less diplomatic literary images.
Such is the situation I experienced recently. Not for any story I was writing, I hasten to add. No, no, ‘twas at the conclusion of an Xbox game I played. (Yep, as anyone who knows me can attest, the old man plays video games. They’re not all just mindless shoot-‘em-ups, you know --- although I’m perfectly prepared to admit an uncomfortably large number are). But some have interesting characters and story arcs and present a perfectly acceptable occasional alternative to reading the printed word (italics, as they say, damned well mine).
Life is Strange 2 (LIS2) is, as the title rather unimaginatively and obviously suggests, the sequel to Life is Strange (and its prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm), both of which I’ve written about (you can find those posts here and here if you’re interested). LIS2, however, relates the story of different characters than the original, so it’s really only a sequel in the loosest sense.
LIS2, like its predecessor, was released in several episodes, rather than all at once. The first episode introduces us to teens Sean and Daniel Diaz, American Latinos living in the northwest U.S. Sean, the older, is frequently annoyed with younger brother Daniel, and as a matter of fact, Daniel’s irritating behaviours explosively get things moving (literally): Daniel does something to anger the racist next-door neighbour, and even as Sean intervenes to calm things down, events take a swift and unexpected downwards spiral into life’s toilet, as they often seem wont to do. Before we quite know what’s happening, the racist neighbour is on the ground… a jittery cop passing by has stopped and drawn his gun… Sean and Daniel’s dad, hearing the commotion, comes rushing out… and the cop has shot him. Tragic, but, in our too-often deeply divided, racially-charged society, not totally unheard of. It’s what happens next that is unheard of.
Daniel screams, there’s a roaring explosion, and when everyone comes to, dad, neighbour and cop are all dead, and the scene looks like a small bomb went off. Inexplicable --- except to people who have read any science fiction: Daniel, unknowingly, possesses telekinetic powers --- the ability to move objects through force of will alone --- and this extreme crisis has brutally, violently, awakened that previously dormant ability. (Kind of a sci-fi puberty, if you will.)
So… with the area between the two houses resembling a war zone, complete with three corpses… what do you do? Sean makes a snap decision --- possibly not the wisest one, but understandable given the circumstances, especially since the optics of the scene really aren’t very good at all (which is rather an understatement): he and Daniel bug out, get the hell out of Dodge, trying to put as much distance between them and that scene as possible. Dad originally came to the U.S from Mexico, so the brothers decide that’s where they’re heading. And thereby hangs a tale, as Will likes to say.
Now, it’s not my intention today to summarize the entire story or review it… although I will say there are a lot of rather stereotypical/superficially drawn characters and plot situations the brothers encounter as they make their way south on foot. Great literature, this ain’t. But that’s not this epistle’s point; the story was okay, at least to the point of maintaining my interest in discovering how this sad tale would end. And last week, the final episode was released. So I bought it… bringing me back to this post’s beginning. (And spoilers, too, so be forewarned.)
Turns out there were seven --- count ‘em --- seven different possible endings to the story, depending on various choices the player had Sean and Daniel make throughout the plot. And all seven endings stank on ice. I played the first one through. What the hell? The brothers are caught, separated, and Sean does years of prison before coming out a broken man? No, no, that can’t possibly be right. Try something else. Whoa. Sean dies making the run across the border? ARGHH. Once more. They make it across, but only in a bloodbath, leaving a trail of corpses littered behind them? Yikes. Gotta be a better way…
Turns out, there really wasn’t. I didn’t like any of the endings. Didn’t seem to matter whether I made the brothers act ethically or not, the end result was the same. And I didn’t like making them act unethically. Yuck. Way to ruin a game (or book, because sometimes we stare at literary endings too, don’t we? Yelling at the author things like, “What? The protagonist went through all that, and this is how you’re resolving the story? You gotta be kidding me!”)
Now, look, I know all too frequently, in this broken world of ours (or other worlds, for those of us writing fantasy or science fiction), life stories don’t always end happily. And like Orson Welles said, having a happy ending really depends on where you end the story. But when we’ve invested all that time in a given character and story… come on, throw us a bone, for crying out loud. Did Frodo die on the slopes of Mount Doom? Did Voldemort defeat Harry? Of course not. We’re authors, which means we’re creators. We get to inject a little life justice in our stories. Doesn’t have to be a blanket They All Lived Happily Ever After, because anyone with even a little life experience knows it doesn’t work that way, but, unless you’re a modern-day Poe, why would you want to end a story with, “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”
Lighten up a little, Ed.