Video Games Held No Meaning for Me Until Developers Gave Us Endings

Video Games Held No Meaning for Me Until Developers Gave Us Endings

If video games are a chaotic digital sea, narrative and endings are its lighthouses.

Over the weekend, the PlayStation Twitter account asked a question that gave me pause: "What's the first game you've ever finished?" Ladies and gentlemen, I can't give you a straight answer. You forget things when you're ancient and live under a rock at the bottom of the ocean.

I know this much, though: Games with endings changed the industry overwhelmingly for the better. If Nintendo had never put Mario on his fateful quest to save Princess Peach (nee Toadstool), my flickering interest in arcade-style games would've snuffed out sooner than later. Even the simplest and crummiest of NES endings turned games into storybooks and gave kids a vital final goal to strive for.

My gaming obsession sprung up from Atari 2600 and ColecoVision, the oldest of the old—school. Most of my earliest memories feature games to some degree. I guesstimate I started playing in 1984, when I was about four. The console crash of '83 was well underway by then, which ironically made it a great time to get into video games. The market was one big fire sale; Atari literally couldn't give its merchandise away.

In other words, my memory is front-loaded with Atari games. That makes it difficult to talk about the first game I ever finished, because 99% of Atari games don't have endings. Your goal is to rack up a high score until you get bored, or until your cat jumps on the console and resets it.

Gunning for a high score might've been fun in the '70s, when people crushed amphetamines and sprinkled them over their breakfast cereal. There was no thrill in chasing numbers as decidedly un-drugged '80s kid, though. When I played Atari, I did so without any real passion; it was a way to pass time or, in the case of Activision's library, look at pretty colors. (Frostbite's aurora borealis effect is still great.)

Simply put, video games meant little to me until I saw Super Mario Bros. for the first time at a friend's birthday party. When my friend's mother explained how the goal of the game is to rescue a princess, I was fascinated by the concept of finishing a game.

I soon learned playing Super Mario Bros. is like playing through a storybook: A princess falls into the claws of a dragon (a turtle-dragon, close enough), and a hero must rescue her. Since I loved reading and was all about fantasy books, I immediately jived with the idea of playing through a fairy tale story. Though Super Mario Bros. "Rescue the princess" questline was laughably simple, it was a great start. It was a goal that, in my eyes, brought order to a pastime that previously only asked me to score big numbers.

Video game stories and goals gradually became more complex, which suited me fine. In Super Mario Bros. 2, the once-captive Princess Peach joins Mario on his quest to liberate a dream kingdom suspended in a nightmare. In Dragon Warrior, a lone adventurer comes face-to-face with the lord of all dragons. Ninja Gaiden's cutscenes gave us our first taste of cinematic storytelling in games. Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest seriously upped the ante by giving us an ultimatum: Journey across Transylvania and defeat Dracula again, or Simon will die of his cursed wounds.

Simon's dark quest particularly resonated with me and gave me reason enough to wander through the game for hours. No, I never had any idea where I was going—Simon's Quest is infamously vague with directions, and I didn't have a strategy guide of any kind—but I didn't mind. Young me believed the slightly twisted backstory for Simon's Quest would feed into a creepy, monster-infested world worth exploring. I was correct.

It's not an exaggeration to say my life changed when I learned video games had goals to strive for and stories to tell. I was inspired to use games as a platform for my own stories, and I wasn't the only one.

I'm well-aged now and video games have evolved across generations of platforms. One thing hasn't changed, however: Games still love telling stories, and I still love letting those stories guide me across huge worlds to meet some grand destiny. When I think about the possibility of a parallel universe where games never evolved beyond getting high scores, I shiver a little.

Oh, and if you're going to hold a gun to my head, I'll go ahead and say the first game I beat was Super Mario Land for the Game Boy. I'm pretty sure that was the one. I had a terrible cold, but I was still elated enough to give a rough, snot-clogged yell of happiness.

Zero continues the Mega Man X's struggle for peace in the Mega Man Zero series. | Inti Creates/Capcom

Major Game Releases: February 24 to February 28

Here are the major releases for the week of February 17 to February 21. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.

  • Mega Man Zero/ZX Collection [February 25, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC]: The latest Mega Man collection from Capcom gathers up all the (in)famous Mega Man Zero games for the Game Boy Advance, as well as the lesser-known (but still great) ZX games for the Nintendo DS. The Zero series is still capable of brutalizing you and wearing you skin, but the Collection gives you options that make the games a bit easier. It's a very good collection overall.
  • Two Point Hospital [February 25, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch]: Two Point's hospital management sim is already a huge hit on PC, and the studio is eager to share its germs with console owners. Your job is to keep the hospital running smoothly by attending to the needs of patients and staff. Maybe that's easier said than done when you're dealing with sick people. They tend to do chaotic things like spontaneously vomit on the floor.
  • Rune Factory 4 Special [February 25, Nintendo Switch]: Gentle reminder that Stardew Valley isn't the only farming/adventuring action you can find on the Switch. Xseed's Rune Factory 4 Special is an upgraded version of the Nintendo 3DS's Rune Factory 4. There are new features and new cutscenes, but your basic mission is the same: Farm, fight, and [other f-word] when you find a partner you fancy.
Tiny viruses can cause huge problems. | Kojima Productions

Five Things You Should Know Heading into This Week in Gaming

Tropes can be good in RPGs. Big, big, big swords is one such excellent trope. | Square Enix

Axe of the Blood God for February 24

Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.

This week's episode tackles the tropes that Kat and Nadia love (and hate) to see in RPGs. From customizable characters to sewer levels; flowery monologues to confusion status effects, Kat and Nadia talk about the elements that draw their attention, and the elements that immediately turn them off. It's a discussion that delves deep into some of the key components of the RPG genre, and game design in general, and will hopefully get you thinking about the elements you love to hate and see in games as well. Don't miss out! Listen here.

Banner image via Legends of Localization

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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