Stories are subjective. Sure, a lot of the internet will tell you otherwise. Spend enough time online, it seems you start thinking that an opinion can only be valid when you get everyone else in the world to hold it. By force. I cannot tell you the amount of people I have seen flamed into oblivion because they praised/criticized the story of Final Fantasy VII in the wrong place. But these people miss out on a whole lot of the good in stories. They’re subjective. They speak to different people in different ways. And that’s awesome.
That does mean that somebody, somewhere, is going to enjoy some bad writing. Something that may have been slapped together on a napkin that some writer accidentally spilled his eighth drink on could end up truly resonating with a reader. It gets the fanboys up in arms, that OMG someone enjoys something they don’t, but aside from them, it’s a really beautiful thing.
I had that happen to me recently. Deus Ex is a game with a lot of strengths. The plot is not one of them. Which might be a little unfair; I didn’t get the chance to play this game until the medium had gone through over a decade of advancement since, but still, from my perspective, it was a great game, but the story was pants. It might be too far to call it bad, but it was lacking. And, at first, it seemed the part that the writing was sloppiest was in the ending. Specifically, the way the game handled the choice of three endings.
You see that? I said ‘endings’. That means spoilers ahead.
So there I was, hunting down the last of the evil spinoff of the group that would be the evil villains in many other stories, tracking them down because the main baddie kept taunting me even though I already dropped a nuke on them because apparently ruling the world requires a significant lack of judgement. When all of a sudden, I became Mr. Popular. Everyone started talking to me, using the communication hubs that had absolutely no reason to be there otherwise, wanting to switch me to their side because all of a sudden this whole peacekeeping mission now had me deciding the fate of the world with absolutely no buildup. And all the options presented to me? They came with some pretty serious downsides, and there was no way of blazing your own path through it. The people who had secretly been running the world in spite of the fact that every single member we saw was completely ineffective and I knew them to be a bunch of clowns because I played Human Revolution first wanted me to create a power vacuum then join them in filling it once more, ruling the earth from the shadows for our own benefit. The only people I really owed a favor to wanted me to destroy all the earths capabilities for long distance communications and plunge the economy back into the middle ages because obviously people can’t just lay cable for the internet again. The AI spying on everyone and hacking everything wanted me to merge with it, to create a benevolent ruler with absolute power, because apparently my penchant for cattle prodding people in the genitals until they passed out, trapping people in enclosed spaces and smoking around them until they died, and breaking into every locked door I came across in an attempt to build up the world’s largest candy bar collection makes me the world’s best moral compass.
Anyways, the problem I had here was that the choices seemed unreasonable, the people giving them weren’t exactly nuanced, they didn’t take into account my past actions after a game that had been doing that really beautifully throughout, and the way they were delivered, mostly out of the clear blue, left me a bit bitter about the option. But then, something miraculous happened. Turns out, I am really, really bad at health. Who knew! A lifetime of being tall and beautiful had trained me to seek out people’s attention, making me really bad at actually avoiding it when I had to. Is this what it’s like to be normal-looking? Man, I feel sorry for the rest of the world. Anyways, this turned out to be a bit of a blessing, as the constant save-scumming I had to go through gave me time to think. And that time to think ended up making me appreciate the endings a lot more. By the time I got to the guy who laid all the consequences out for me, I had already started looking at the endings on a whole different level.
What really changes the way I viewed the ending was the time I was given to reflect on the state of the world as it was. The three options you were given were all ruinous, but set against the backdrop of a world where Soylent Green would be panned for being too realistic, where the government pays people to commit suicide, where the United States walls off its slums and high crime areas, leaving them to devour themselves with no Batman to save them, where corruption exists at literally every level of government we see except for China, of all places, every single one of those options, horrid though they were, were far better than the status quo. The options themselves, digging past the surface level, asked you to weigh values against each other. Is it worth it to sacrifice individual freedom the world over if you can keep people safe? Does it matter that people are being controlled from the shadows, that they are locked into invisible gridlines, if it allows many to prosper? Is individual freedom valuable enough to set society back decades and replace it with chaos world-wide?
I still don’t appreciate the way they were presented, and the framing around them. The options did not come about it a well-written manner. They do really speak to me, though, and caused me to think about the values I held. In the end, I went for the chaos route, setting my people free at the cost of large government, business, and economy as a whole. Personal freedom is very important to me, and that feels by far the most right choice. Others will think differently, and that’s an awesome thing. In any case, the game, for all the creativity and fun it offers, was not very well-written, but the endings triggered that same part of me that attempts to thematically analyze the Saints Row series, as wild and slapstick as they are. I don’t believe they’d do the same to everybody. But the ending choices, and the nuance behind them, rose above the rest and truly spoke to me, transforming them in my eyes into something far greater than anyone else may believe.