When It Comes to Game Endings, Would You Rather Be Happy or Satisfied?

On today's episode of Waypoint Radio, Rob, Patrick, Austin and Danielle gather to discuss games that attempt the herculean task of ending a series on a satisfying note. There are many threes today: The Banner Sage 3, Mass Effect 3, Dark Souls 3, and more, and, of course, a discussion that encompasses fan labor.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/pawq9b/when-it-comes-to-game-endings-would-you-rather-be-happy-or-satisfied
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How do I decide when I am satisfied?



I know when I’m satisfied because I’m crying rather than being happy? :grin:

Edit: But serious form of that answer: I crave satisfaction, and often that means being happy. But to work out which was my desire, I think of the two when not together. I basically never crave happy at the expense of any ending feeling satisfying.

A satisfying ending that’s not happy is really good. A happy ending that’s not satisfying is bad (and usually has that empty saccharine feeling in spades).


@kcin lol of course

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To answer the headline, recently I got a bad ending for Vampyr and initially I was upset by this, but then I realized it was a reflection of the violence I used in the game (my moral evaluations in the game could have been literally described with the phrase “eat the rich”). It would have been nice if the ending had reflected my moral evaluations, but nonetheless, the game seemed to value the choices I had made and I ended up feeling at peace with my story. I think I’ll remember that game and how I wrapped things up for a long time now because I felt the consequences of killing many, many, folks, personal moral beliefs aside.

This is all to say, I love happy endings, but I’ll remember the satisfying ones for much longer.


I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, I’ve been happy and satisfied with an ending before, but if forced to choose I’d definitely rather experience a conclusion that ultimately leaves me satisfied than something that makes me happy. There’s even times where I’ve enjoyed a work more because the ending is inherently unsatisfying on some level (which I guess could mean the ending did satisfy me but in a different way).

I think of a game like Firewatch, that has a pretty muted and sobering ending. One where the thrill of there being a larger than life conspiracy or a passionate affair are initially suggested to be within the realm of possibility only to turn out to be red herrings facilitated by the main character’s desire to escape from their current situation. There was plenty of people unhappy with the decision to end the game that way but I found it wholly satisfying for the type of story Campo Santo was trying to tell. Along those same lines it might not surprise you to hear that I was a big fan of the way Twin Peaks: The Return ended last year.


Six years later and he still can’t say leviathan.

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The reception to Firewatch’s climax+ending might be the most I’ve ever felt disconnected to a majority of a game’s playerbase. I feel like there’s almost a universal dislike for its resolution, even from people who enjoyed the game, and I wholeheartedly believe it’s what makes the whole thing work. It would’ve directly run counter to the emotional core of the narrative had it gone the direction a lot of people wanted it to go.

Also, of course I’ve listened to all the Idle Thumbs episodes, so I know just how much Vanaman, Rodkin, and Remo hate the way typical video game plots unravel.

Made all the sense in the world that they’d write Firewatch that way.

of course fellow thumb gaynor did it before them and did it better with gone home


Thinking on this, I can appreciate a happy ending, but I’d take satisfied any day of the week.

People have already brought up Firewatch, so I won’t talk long about that beyond saying I agree with every point that’s been brought up about it.

Instead I’ll bring up The Beginner’s Guide. Which, beyond being a dang good narrative game, has maybe my favorite ending to a game? It left me feeling sick to my stomach but I can’t imagine changing it in the slightest.


Trying to think of times I was happy but felt unsatisfied. Nope.

I think I have to say happy? Because it includes satisfaction? I can also be happy with sad/incomplete/etc. endings. F.E.A.R. stands out as one of my favorite endings of all time, and it was… hardly happy? I was very happy with it.

I remember hearing people say they didn’t like Mass Effect 3 before I started playing. I got it. Not at the end, I got it the whole way through. Decisions were meaningless. Tasteless and flat interactions that changed nothing. The stakes never changed, ever. My actions were decided for me. What I picked was how much of a jerk I was while doing them, and often dissatisfied with the choices being made for me. Then I got to the end. It felt fine. It tracked. The ending I got made sense for the game I played.

I wasn’t going to play it again though. I re-loaded my save, and made a different choice. Then the ending still fit. It felt cheap. It felt poorly handled and shallow, but that wasn’t about the ending. It was about the game. Each of the endings makes sense in a vacuum where you don’t know they’re all basically identical. Which, again, not a defense for all of them being good endings. At least one is extremely stupid if the player chooses to have a stupid ending.

Generally speaking though, I think having a good reaction to events in games makes me happy. If a game can make me sad, I’m happy. Maybe that’s what satisfaction means? I opened saying I’ve never felt unsatisfied when happy, and I think it works as a tautology on a lot of levels. I’ve never been satisfied and unhappy.

Starts humming I’m happy when it rains.


Austin makes a good point re: use of “this reads like fan-fiction” as an insult, because fan fiction tends to come from the heart, and I feel bad for using it, very recently in fact, to describe the Goku Black arc of Dragon Ball Super, I didn’t investigate my language enough to articulate what exactly felt wrong to me.


I don’t understand the issue with the extended cut of Mass Effect 3. I get it on a theoretical level. I definitely don’t want any artist or creator to make changes to their work because a lot of people got really angry and hostile towards the artist. But in the case of Mass Effect 3, the extended cut was just an inclusion of more lore to the endings that were already there. More information about what happened with the Krogans at the end doesn’t read to me as a meaningful deviation of the ending of Mass Effect 3. The only thing that the extended cut does change is the mass relays not being destroyed. Does adding more information constitute a huge change for anyone else? I am just curious if I am missing something here.

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Games that end happily but not satisfyingly tend to just leave me with a plastered smile on my face. One of the great bad-happy endings for me is probably Uncharted 4, a game that shows previously unchecked characters (cough NATHAN cough) having to face moral and domestic troubles only for literally everything to be fine by the end. All that said, it was hard not to feel some form of fuzziness in the game’s epilogue, which was a well-produced mirroring of Ch. 4, the best and probably only truly great thing in that game.

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Okay so this is maybe my favorite episode of Waypoint Radio ever, and y’all did an episode about wanting to eat alien alloys, so that’s saying something.

This conversation has so many good facets, goddamn. Okay.

ME3: ME3 was the first and last game I ever pre-ordered. My mother, who had been watching my playthroughs of the series, was so invested, she spent her measly vacation time to take two days off of work so we could sit down, and play it, and finish it together.

And now, my mother does not watch me play video games. And it sucks. This talk about how the creator’s relationship with the medium is so fundamentally different from the players is extremely relevant to me. My mother left ME3 feeling like, in a sense, the rest of the series had sold her this narrative bill of goods, and she’d gotten screwed in the end.

I’m more at peace with Mass Effect now than I was at 22 but… I still genuinely feel like something went bad there. There was something rotten about how the ending of ME3 betrayed the core thesis of the rest of the series. To me, and I will argue this to my dying day, Mass Effect is at its core about having a big picture universe that is told to you through small pictures. Ending the game on a tremendously stupid, abstract Big Picture choice is… just not in line with the rest of the series and what it was doing. Even the “”“best”"" ending of Synthesis was fundamentally busted, given how it demands you take these different cultures and species, many of whom have built their identity on their hard-won individuality and how they are completely divergent from other species/cultures… and you hit a button that says We Are All Green now.

It’s like the ending to that game was completely divorced from the entire goddamn point of the Geth and from the Krogans’ struggle. It contradicts the themes in its own installment. And it’s not good. It’s bad writing. And in 2018 I can look back and respect that they largely stood by that ending, but also there’s a reason for that (horrendous, unacceptable) fan backlash, and it’s a betrayal of the core of what Mass Effect was. It does not remotely justified the horseshit that fell on Bioware back at the time, but I can’t help but look back as a budding writer myself and go hey BW, what the hell happened?

I have a feeling that story would be more interesting than what ME3 was.

Fan labor: the amount of people in games media today who like creative fandom and don’t just relegate it to a punchline is incredible. maybe bc i know a lot of these folks miiiight have been LJ-era fandom people? HMMMM.

But yeah, I’m a fan creator. I’m getting to the age where my peers are getting called “old woman who should be knitting” and not writing or having a creative hobby. It’s absolutely terrifying to see people just one generation behind me in fandom spaces, on tumblr, cheerfully repeating the most backwards 60s sexist dreck.

It’s so discouraging to know this hobby that I am (not to brag) really good at after about ten years of practice, is so undervalued. “This feels like fanfiction” should not be an insult, because main thrust of fanwork is filling in the spaces that the canon neglects. For every time you’ve watched a show or movie and wanted to just have the plot stop for thirty minutes so the characters would have an actual conversation, fandom’s got your back. And with the example of Overwatch and similar properties, the way fandom works to uphold engagement and even recruit people into the medium feels almost preplanned, like some aspects of the story were made bespoke to encourage Creative fandom as well as satisfying Curative/“Core” fandom.

All said, I’m not sure what I feel about that. I want fandom to have spaces of massive creativity and enthusiasm like Overwatch. But I also know that labor is being expended by fans to increase player retention for the publisher. There are very few situations like the Valve situation.

And also like… the Valve situation is cool. It really is. But how much of that publisher leniency is extended to the massively female and queer creative fanpeople. My hypothetical fangame that involves a lot more romance and wider demographics for the cast that doesn’t focus on the Original Flavor of the canon probably isn’t getting the Valve thumbs up for monetization. Even within the small spaces where we say that creators are letting fans benefit from the work they put in, the people benefiting from that are not representative of wider fandom, which is more widely representative of the fanbase.

… I’m gonna shut up now because this is long but again: this is all my absolute jam, and I loved the extended discussion. I could add a whole other short essay on MGS but I’ll just say: MGS4 is the worst MG game, yes including MGS5, thank you good night.


I don’t need a happy ending in order to feel satisfied, but I do need the story threads to be tied up to feel satisfied.

Don’t leave me wondering what happened to a character, like the TV show Heroes did. Don’t leave the story as an alleged completion, which really only extends the timeline, like Mass Effect 3. [The question of whether reapers are an inevitability is tabled in all the options, since life will begin again no matter what choice is made]

Brothers: Tale of Two Sons had a satisfying ending while being bittersweet at best.

This pretty much is related to whether the writing is any good in the first place imo.

No you’re not wrong. The Extended Cut was just… an extension of what was already there. Nothing was fundamentally changed. But also, there was no way they could have done something else. Even putting aside the logistical feasibility of changing a game’s ending after its published, the fallout of making such a decision would have been… beyond what I can dream up, actually? Like, in 2012, I hated the ME3 ending. I still think it’s a fundamentally busted piece of writing. But the world in which Bioware somehow magically capitulated to a hate campaign about the swan song of their work is an even Darker Timeline than we already live in.


I should have been clearer and said that I do not agree at all with EA and/or Bioware (probably upper management) capitulating to fans who were in that hate campaign. It was so depressing to see that there was an official response to these folks at all.

I just wanted to say I’m glad Austin didn’t stay a trademark researcher. I think you and everyone at Waypoint make the world a better place. :slight_smile:

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Just leave me satisfied, because not every story should be happy. If Always Sometimes Monsters ended all sunshine and roses, its entire point would have been undermined. If ZOE didn’t have that bitter taste at the end, I’d write it off as forgettable fluff like I did the sequel. MadWorld’s narrative would have been completely forgettable if it didn’t lean into the grim commentary it would have just used as set dressing otherwise (Anarchy Reigns would be the opposite example, it being MadWorld with out the political teeth or thematic meat). Need I even go into Spec Ops: The Line or games of its deconstructive, challenging ilk?

I’m honestly a little concerned how many people need the media to be happy and hopeful. There’s definitely a place for that (one need only to see a list of my favorite anime for some great examples), but just about all my favorite stories don’t simply leave you happy but thinking or reflecting, and maybe even a good deal sad or pissed off. Happy is a secondary condition that can be traded out with all sorts of other emotional states, satisfaction is absolutely necessary to have a good ending, even robbing the player of expected satisfaction to give them a new kind (see just about everything Yoko Taro has ever made).

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