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Some minor spoilers for Horizon Zero Dawn side quests and the Frozen Wilds DLC, and also for the movie Titanic if you somehow missed that, and we go back to picking on poor Mass Effect: Andromeda, and also we debate the framing of narrative, the definition of success, and some of our various personal issues. Settle in, it gets long. -er than usual.

Butch:

Played a little, but not much. Went through about half of the hideout/bunker/whatever, got to the campfire right by the NEXT part of the bunker/whatever, but Junior wouldn’t go away and Mrs. McP wanted food and you know how it goes.

Now…here’s a thing. I got the first few of the voice recordings of the guy, the girl he obviously likes, and the sleazy security guy. Still early in that story. But I’m going to put this on paper (you know what I mean) so that I can revisit it later:

The minute I got that first recording “I’ve been at this 16 hours and they need something smarter…and every time I smelled her hair…” my reaction was “Welp, another set of doomed people.” Not doomed in the sense of “Someday they’re going to die cuz end of the world,” but doomed in the sense of “Well, this story of these people is going to end poorly.” Which got me to thinking.

I’m probably thinking this because the stories involving the Old Ones do end poorly. Even though the last one we discussed, the Last Girls on Earth, didn’t end the way we thought it would (you know, robot death) it would, it still was, I believe you said, “Depressingly relateable.” The most fleshed out story of the old ones in the main game, that is, the vantage points, was depressing as hell. This will, most likely, end badly.

And yet….

The main quests tend to end well. Mostly. The dead lover one was kinda a downer, but, even here, the current day musician ended happily. Of the main quest lines, things ended so well with Erand, Avad, Petra and the cool muscular black lady that we think we have a chance of banging each and every one of them in the sequel.

Am I forgetting a whole lot of stuff, or is there something to this?

Feminina:

Hm. I dunno.

The dying lover was a downer, as you say, but also…the guy whose lover was a sculptor and who just wanted to see the last works of said lover’s hands was a downer…the woman who wanted you to chase off the snapmaws so she could mourn her lost friend at the pool was a downer…Erend’s sister Ersa dying in his arms was a bit of a downer…that woman who left Nora lands seeking vengeance even though she could never return to her family was kind of a downer since her brother (I think?) was missing her…the guy who intentionally summoned glinthawks to his family estate to kill his father and sister wasn’t exactly an inspiration…

I mean, it’s true, those stories ended up with someone alive and out of danger for the moment, at least, so yeah, they were successful, but there was a lot of grief and destruction to go around.

Butch:

Except

…the sculptor’s lover did see the works and found peace.

…the lady got to say goodbye at the pond and found peace.

…Ersa dying doesn’t count. Wasn’t the end of the quest. By the end of the quest Erend was happy to the point of flirtiness.

…Nora woman who left doesn’t count. She didn’t want to go back. She was happy.

…Yeah, but the guy plotting against family got his. Vengeance is a thing in video games.

So yes, it isn’t all wine and roses, because who would play that? (You find yourself in a mystic land…a land where no one has problems..there are no Kevins…just hugs and dress balls and….wait, ok I’d play that). But usually there has to be some conflict and resolution to a narrative, yes?

And that might be the sticking point. When you read about all this issues written by people before the world ended, and you know their world is gonna end, you know there’s not going to be much resolution. Even the people above who found peace, that’s not a bad thing in this context because now they can put the past behind them and look towards a (hopefully) better future. You can’t look to a better future when there IS no future. So you read the old stuff and you know that all this is over. They’re not getting better. This is it for them. Conflict? Yes. Resolution? No.

And that’s a toughie because we like resolution in life, we like resolution in narrative, and we CERTAINLY like resolution in video games, because so much of the kind of games we love playing is we, ourselves, giving out resolution like candy on Halloween. The whole point of the damn game is to resolve things. And when we can’t, that’s tough to swallow, and kinda depressing.

Because even in the things you list, we did a little good. We made a positive impression. But these old stories? Nope.

Feminina:

Well, in the old stories, we weren’t around to help, so OBVIOUSLY there’s no resolution! There’s no peace without Aloy! We can’t make a positive impression if we’re not there!

But seriously, to continue the argument: if you’re accepting a bit of peace as success/resolution–which I agree, it is–then don’t we have to call the long story with the vantage points an ultimately ‘successful’ one? The guy closes with “for a little while on this planet there was a guy who loved his mom,” or whatever, and that was his bit of peace. He accepted where he was and what was happening, and that was it.

And the Last Girls on Earth: “we’re going to stay in touch, no matter what, and we had something great here together, and it was worth it.” Isn’t that a happy ending–at least as much as someone weeping into a pool is a happy ending?

I think it’s easy to read the old stories as sad/unsuccessful because, as you say, we know that they ARE ultimately tragic tales because everyone in them met a horrible death shortly afterwards. Major downer.

And likewise, it’s easier to see the stories we play through in the game as ultimately positive because hey, someone is still alive, they’re moving on, there’s a chance for a better future. Where there’s life, there’s hope!

And there’s certainly no life at the end of the old stories, so also no hope, so they come across as sad. But if we take them purely as stories, and don’t consider what we know about what comes next, they DO often reach an internal resolution.

And if we focus too much on the future of the stories we’ve played through, they’re just as likely to seem sad…maybe that lady mourning by the pool was killed by snapmaws 20 minutes after we left. We reunited Olin with his family and that was all great, but maybe they were slaughtered by bandits or vengeful Shadow Carja a week later. Erend seemed flirty when we left him, but he was on a post-battle high at the time: he could still have years of drunken grief ahead of him trying to process the fact that his sister was dead/not dead/dead again.

If you’re looking for resolution, you can’t think about what comes afterwards, and so I think we have to look at both sets of stories with the same refusal to consider that. And if we do, I think we can’t necessarily write off all the old stories as sad, doomed failures.

People succeed, at something, even if it’s tiny. They find moments of peace and meaning. What else IS success?

Butch:

Oooo! And now, dear readers, Butch and Femmy discuss their issues.

See, I read that, not as peace, but as the icing on the failure cake. He loved his mom, he wanted so much to please her, and, in the end, he ran out of future with which to do so. I saw that as the very end of peace. He kept trying to find a peaceful place for himself, getting sober, getting a job, and it kept not working and now, with the world ending, he was out of chances. The guy who loved his mom didn’t deliver, didn’t live up to that love. There is no “now I can get on with my life,” or even “My place in this life is ok,” but more the lament of a gambler, who knew in his heart he was gonna lose all along, finally losing his last nickel. But if there HAD been a future….maybe he would’ve turned it around.

And you, being a mother and all, read it as “Well, as long as you have a mother and you loved her some, that’s more than enough.”

Issues, man. We got ’em.

As for the Last Girls, same thing! They know they’re NOT gonna stay in touch. They SAY they will, but she says that they both know they won’t, that they’ll drift apart. Again, no future. The person weeping in the pool has time to stop weeping. The people in the past ran out of time before they stopped weeping.

Though, Hmm. So you’re seeing this as metagaming? Like, “Ha, old dudes, I know what’s coming and your hope is empty?” But if I didn’t know…hmm.

Maybe why I found the vantage guy to be a major downer is that he knew he was done in the context of his story. The Last Girls, it was ambiguous if they knew the world was ending or not, whether it was “We know we won’t stay in touch because who does?” or “We know we won’t stay in touch cuz we’ll likely be dead soon?” Probably the former. But Vantage guy knew damn well his time was up, and the hopeless was very, very real. Hmm.

Wait, by that token you’re saying there’s no such thing as a story REALLY having a happy ending. A movie where the lovers kiss at the end to swelling orchestral music can’t be tainted with “And, maybe, who knows, a meteor hit them five minutes later.” You take what you’re given.

And before you’re all “But dude, you aren’t taking what you’re given, you’re extending the stories of one but not the other,” well, yeah, because I DO know what’s gonna happen after the old stories end. This isn’t a “Hey, they’re happy/might get back together, but it isn’t really happy because MAYBE there’ll be a robot apocalypse,” it’s “THERE WAS A ROBOT APOCALYPSE!” The new stories, we don’t KNOW what the future holds for these people, so hope is the endpoint. The old ones, we know any hope they have is empty, cuz, you know, ROBOT APOCALYPSE! That’s the endpoint. We’ve seen the meteor that’s gonna hit the lovers after the movie ends, so we can’t refuse to consider it.

Feminina:

You make a good argument, and I don’t entirely disagree with you, but this is good discussion of issues so I’ll keep it going.

So yeah, but…the old stories DON’T actually end with the apocalypse. Yes, we know it came, sometimes the narrators themselves also know it’s coming, but the story itself doesn’t end with “aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh I’m being torn apart by robots!!!!!!”

That (or something equally final) definitely happened! But that’s not where we leave off.

I would argue that even though we know the meteor is coming, the meteor is not the end of that individual story: that story ended before it hit, and we can fairly consider it at that selected end point. I mean, even though the apocalypse is a part of the larger context of the story, we can still refuse to consider it as the ending of that story, the way we can refuse to consider that, in the larger context, personal apocalypse awaits us all. We’re all going to die. Every momentary happy or sad moment of resolution in anyone’s life will ultimately end up with death. But we don’t (unless we’re in a grim mood) reflect on the pointlessness of doing anything because one day we’ll all be dead.

And yeah, the apocalypse in this game looms a lot closer than death does for most of us in everyday life. At least until a year ago. Ha? Anyway, I’m not saying we should ignore that it happened, because obviously we do know that it did and it would be silly to pretend otherwise, but I am saying that using it to invalidate anything positive that came before it is kind of like using the fact of someone’s eventual death to invalidate anything positive in their life.

“Yeah, that guy down the street has fun, married a great person, had some great kids, played some good games, seems happy, but what difference does it make, he’s still going to end up dead.”

Because he is. But if we look at him today, and just think “well, where’s his story at the end point as we currently see it (let’s say, now)?” it would be pretty good.

Endings are always artificial, because nothing ever really ends. (Even when we die, other people live on. Even if the world ends, the other planets keep turning. Even if the sun explodes, the galaxy keeps spinning.) We always have to pick a point to stop, and if one specific story stops before the apocalypse, then that’s where it stopped, even if we know that in the long run, in the context of the entire world of stories, that’s not where that character ended up.

As to individual readings of the hopeful/hopeless nature of those endings…yeah, we do seem to be interpreting them differently. I did read them more positively than you did, and I guess that’s just going to be a reflection of the mood and outlook of each person who comes to the story. Which obviously cannot be predicted by the writers, but is still totally fair to discuss.

Butch:

We are on fire this week, that we are. Until I jinx it like this.

Oh don’t mention a year ago. This was grim enough already.

But OK, all true. It’s almost like you went to a liberal arts college and were an English major. But…I will keep it going.

It’s one thing to speculate on endings based on an unframed narrative. Yes, we all die, and meteors and abstract awful in the future. True. I suppose life itself is one bigassed framed narrative.

But that’s not what we have here. These are stories that are very much told within the larger, yet finite, story of the game itself. We’re not reading these within the context of life, the universe and everything, we’re reading them within the context of “Horizon: Zero Dawn,” a game that came in a box with bigassed ROBOT DINOSAURS on the cover. If the old stories were just a collection of short stories, independent of some larger narrative, then I’m with you, but they’re not. They’re included in the overarching frame of the main game, the main narrative, which is focused like a laser on the robot dinosaur apocalypse. So it’s hard, if not impossible, to say “Yeah, well, that story ended there, la la la I’m not seeing the Robot Dinosaurs on the box,” because THAT story, Aloy’s/the world’s story is such a focus of what you’re doing (playing the game) in the first place.

As for the player’s mood–motherhood, not just mood. Hey, we all look at art through our own lens.

Feminina:

We are on fire! Don’t jinx us!

You are absolutely right: we cannot ignore the context that is staring us in the face in the form of ROBOT DINOSAURS. In a very real way, the end of the world IS the old story, and our interpretation of all the smaller stories that take place inside this larger narrative are inevitably colored by this association.

Still.

I’m thinking of other disaster-related stories now. Let’s say…in James Cameron’s Titanic, the boat sinking WAS the story, and the little romance that took place beforehand absolutely is–and is meant to be–seen in that larger context.

I mean, if he’d just ended the movie with Jack and Rose lying in the backseat of the car, all lovey dovey, people would have justifiably wondered “what the hell was the point of setting this story on the Titanic, then?!” People would have known that it would not end well! (I mean, it would have been possible to imagine that they both survived, but still.)

And I think the point of that, had it happened, would have been to say that nobody ever knows what’s coming. We live our lives in ignorance of the future, playing out our tiny romances and rebellions as if they mattered, even though in the grand scheme they do not, and the bottom could fall out from under us at any moment. But the moments matter to us, and we have to carry on as if they matter in general, because that’s what life is made of.

Ending that movie on the love scene, with the ship still afloat, would have been like saying THIS MOMENT IS WHAT MATTERS. Not what came before, of which we know only enough to let us feel mildly engaged with these characters, and not what comes after, of which we know only disaster. THIS NOW. (Not saying I think this would necessarily be a good narrative choice!–it would seem like making light of a horrible disaster in order to tell a saccharine story…instead of exploiting it for special effects drama and saccharine story…but leaving my personal opinion of the movie aside.)

And even closer to the disaster, wasn’t there a scene where an old couple lies down on their bed in each other’s arms as the water pours into their room, or something? And then it cuts away. Obviously they drowned immediately afterwards. But was the fact that they drowned, the fact that they had no more time to do whatever it was they might have wanted to do, the point of the tiny, tiny story that we saw in their actions? I think no, the point was “they held each other close and met their fate together” or something vaguely positive, in a resigned way.

If the camera had lingered on them as they drew their last breaths and then, choking, flailed around underwater turning blue…that would have been a different story. A darker, “OK, they were together but that sure was grisly and they don’t seem that comforted by each other now, in the contortions of death” story. Narrative choices.

Even when you absolutely know the outcome, even when the apocalypse hangs over every moment of the smaller story, even when you know it steps into the room the moment you look away–where the small story chooses to cut off matters. As you say, framing.

So I guess what I’m saying is not that we should look at the smaller stories and say “how would this come accross if we didn’t know what was going to happen next?” because obviously, we do, and that knowledge is a critical part of how we understand everything in the larger story of the entire game.

But we still can look at them and say “how does this come accross based on where it stops?”

And I still feel, personally, that something like “we made music together and had something great for a while” is essentially a positive ending–a THIS IS WHAT MATTERS NOW for that story. Like holding your spouse while the water pours in. Yeah, we’re doomed. We’re all freaking doomed. BUT WE MADE MUSIC. They had that, they did that, and that matters, to the narrator, in the moment of now where that story ends.

‘Course, it can also be read as “we’ve drifted apart and will run out of time to ever reconnect,” and I can see that too.

I feel like we’re probably at the point now where we could basically start arguing the other side, because we don’t actually disagree very profoundly…but good discussion!

Butch:

(As an aside, Mythbusters conclusively proved that they could’ve, and should’ve, both survived. They told James Cameron this, and he said “No, they couldn’t, because the story wouldn’t have been as good.”)

How do you remember this movie this well? I have a hard time remembering what I played last night.

We did good this week! But this is a good place to leave it, as I just got very tired, and it’s only a matter of time before I make a Kate Winslet naked joke…although it is Friday, so I suppose this is a good time for it.

Shit, I did jinx it, didn’t I?

I do want to point out that we got that from me playing half an hour, much of which was jumping and solving some laser problem. I think there were four data points. Maybe five. And we got this much out of it.

I think that speaks for the game almost as much as it speaks for us.

Feminina:

I was just thinking, did we EVER spend this much time on deep narrative discussion of poor, poor MEA?

I mean, we got some good material in about imperialism and the self and so forth, it certainly wasn’t a loss. I’m not sorry we played it. And yet, as you say, about five data points of a slow night in a sidequest of some DLC, and we’re writing extended thoughtful essays about narrative structure and the meaning of success in life.

It’s a good game.

Also, we’re very, very smart. And eloquent. And extremely modest.

Butch:

I’m not sure all the deep we did on MEA added up to this, total.

In MEA’s defense, this was the MAIN quest in some DLC, so, you know, there’s that.

That and we’re very, very smart. And eloquent. And modest.

Feminina:

Oh, oh, good point, I’ve been thinking so much about the Last Girls on Earth that I forgot we actually started with the MAIN quest in the DLC. That’ll make MEA feel a lot better.

I feel kind of bad, but the more I play something else that I really love, the more MEA becomes one of those games for me that I enjoyed at the time but that has very little lingering impact. Am I going to be thinking fondly about moments in MEA a couple of years from now?

Unlikely. I mean, I love me some BioWare, and there was good stuff in MEA, I had fun, but there just…wasn’t that much there, in the end. Enh. They can’t all be superstars.

Butch:

I’m with you. MEA is the kind of game where, in a couple years, we’ll be all “Hey, wasn’t there that thing in MEA…I think? Wasn’t there? Don’t really remember….”

It didn’t even have shanties.

But it did have Suvi….

Feminina:

I won’t even remember my romance! Suvi didn’t do much for me, and I mean, Peebee was sweet and all, but where was my angsty, heavily armored krogan lover?

Poor MEA.

Butch:

Hey, at least you got strong sexual content. I got a tender kiss, fade to black.

Feminina:

I suppose…as strong as content can be with so little angst and such a paucity of heavy armor.

Siiiiiiiigh.

Butch:

Yeah, I can see you being disappointed, what with blue boobs instead of plate mail.

NEW SENTENCE!

Man, we were doing so very, very well.

I blame myself.

Feminina:

Heh. That sentence is going to make this post come up as a result for some very weird search.

I blame you.

Butch:

But it does serve to illustrate a point: When we were talking about Horizon, look at how erudite we were! We switched to MEA and whammo, we end up here.

I still blame myself.

Feminina:

To be fair, if Horizon gave us much fuel for nudity-related discussion, we’d probably derail all the time.

I don’t want to say that we’re only smart when we don’t get distracted by romance, because that’s such a cliche, but…

Butch:

Maybe Horizon 2. That Petra….

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