Lately I’ve been thinking about endings. A book, computer game or a film absolutely has to have a good ending, so much can be forgiven if the ending is good, and so much that is good is quickly forgotten if the ending is bad. Just to warn people, there are spoilers ahead for several games, films and TV series.
There was a hoo-ha in the Geek world recently when Mass Effect 3 (a computer game for the less geeky among you) had a rather rubbish tacked on ending that didn’t sit well with the themes of the entire series.
There were effectively 3 final choices;
- Save the universe but sacrifice an entire race and two of your main characters but kill the bad guys (big evil space squid robots the size of aircraft carriers)
- Take control of the robots and tell them to fly away, sacrificing yourself, (though this path didn’t make much sense because the robots use mind control techniques so the question arises, who is controlling who?)
- Or merge all organic life in the universe (against their will!) with the evil robots to make a synthesis of synthetic and organic life… (which seems like quite a crappy thing to do all round).
Anyway, there was a public outcry, gamers really didn’t like it, it was a betrayal of the choices your character had made to get to the end of the story. The synthesis choice is particularly depressing in that it despairs of our mushy organic lifeforms. (much like gnosticism I suppose)
The worst ending in gaming history however, in my opinion, is the end of FarCry 2 where your character is convinced by the bad guy that life is futile, despairs of being a force for good in the world and kills him/herself. I felt sick and disgusted, is this what the post 9/11 world mistakes for good story telling??? really???
The end of Borderlands had a terribly lame final boss and it turns out you were manipulated all along by a little robot you met right at the start of the game into killing another intergalactic squid… This theme of being manipulated throughout the game was made popular by Bioshock, where you have been brainwashed to do anything anyone says so long as they say “would you kindly” before giving you a command.
Babylon 5′ s ending of the Shadow War was also pretty lame. The conflict is ended when the Vorlons (who had been benevolent till the death of their Ambassador Kosh) turned out to be just as misguided and self absorbed as the Shadows and trapped in some kind of meaningless eternally cyclic dualistic order vs. chaos battle. (this ending was basically cribbed by Mass Effect 3)
All of this has led me to believe that, at least in the pop culture, the possibility of there being a genuine battle worth fighting, that is within humanity’s capability to fight and win, has been discounted. Gone are the days of dancing Ewoks, rainbows and riding off into the sunset… If the Shawshank Redemption was made today, there would be no happy reunion in Mexico between Red and Andy Dufresne and what a depressing film it would be too.
The West has forgotten its cold war victory and the great price it cost to attain and no longer wholeheartedly believes in the Western values of personal freedom, self determination, democracy, free enterprise, human ingenuity and endeavor. From the evidence of every Chinese foreign student I’ve talked to, a rather monstrous totalitarian regime in China seems better able to convince its subjects that there is a brighter future than the west!
This is before you get to the spiritual malaise that has people running after Buddhism and Cabala, and everything else gnostic, or a materialistic atheism that fails to satisfy. The west is abandoning the Christian narrative which forged it from the fires of the collapse of the Roman empire and in doing so it is losing its sense of self and all sense of worth.
So what is so different about the Christian narrative? I’m pretty sure it is a unique narrative because it is imbued with limitless hope. The seemingly complete calamity of the Crucifixion is itself vanquished by the glory of the resurrection, death has lost its sting.
The spiritual battle between our demons and our better angels whilst still a great struggle is, through God’s grace, eminently winnable. Christianity speaks of the infinite value and dignity of human life and of the miraculous things we can achieve if we act in faith, hope and charity. Christianity says that no matter how abject the sinner, real repentance will lead inexorably toward redemption.
A few of my Catholic friends are struggling with faith at the moment. I’m finding it difficult to communicate the hope and joy offered by our religion, perhaps because it is only readily apparent when viewed with the eyes of faith. The Catholic Church isn’t some conspiracy of social control, the Church is a miracle that only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit has been kept alive to this day.
We should not take this miracle for granted however, if we settle for mediocrity and no longer strive to be ever more Catholic then like salt that has lost its saltiness we will lose all that we hold dear. My conclusion is, unless our ambition is to be more Catholic than the Pope there will be little to differentiate ourselves from all the protestant denominations which are so rapidly losing their raison d’être.