The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

How It Ended: The Definition of Denouement

Written by: Adam “ManKorn” Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor


For many gamers (read: people on the Internet with too much time and anonymity) the ending to a particular title can ruin not just that singular gaming experience, but the franchise as a whole. Look no further than the controversial Mass Effect Trilogy to see just how a single story choice can retroactively ruin hundreds of hours of play time.


This phenomenon is not limited to video games, of course. Many fans of How I Met Your Mother refuse to watch the reruns after the lackluster finale. Same for the millions of people who suffered through LOST. But let’s face it: Ending a story that has taken so long to tell is a daunting challenge. 

It’s a proven fact that the shorter the story, the easier it is to find a good ending. This is why no one likes your jokes at work (I’m looking at you, Karen. Seriously, you think we are all interested in how many times your fish tried to eat bubbles?) Getting to the ending quickly guarantees that the audience remains invested in the characters and the plot. In a two-hour movie, this is relatively simple. As long as your character is somewhat likable, you’ll be fine.


TV tries to get around this by making the protagonist funny or charming–like White Collar or Sherlock–or just a solid bad ass–24. Or you can go the route of the CW and just make your characters conventionally attractive automatons who get into the same stupid high school drama we’ve seen again and again. (I’m looking at you, Vampire Diaries / Reign / every CW show in existence).

Video games have to do more than that. A movie trilogy only absorbs you for twelve hours tops (16 if you’re Peter Jackson). A television series, even an especially long-legged one, can take 90 hours. Games boast play times of up to 300 hours. That’s a not-insignificant portion of your life spent in someone else’s world living someone else’s life. It’s very difficult to find a genuinely satisfying denouement.