Warning: Spoilers ahead!
If you read my Inside ending theory, which the internet is calling “pretty good,” you’ll know that I enjoyed Playdead’s spiritual successor to Limbo quite a bit, and by quite a bit I mean that I want to take it out for a candlelit dinner, sit on a beach and admire the night sky while holding its hand, before finally proposing to it and settling down with our three kids and dog.
It’s a good game.
While the sequence of events leading up to its finale are all incredibly enjoyable, with the game benefiting tremendously by its constant implementation of new ideas and an ambiguous but thoroughly compelling story that drives the whole thing forwards, it is its conclusion that will inevitably keep people talking months following its release. After putting the controller down I couldn’t wait to read the online discussion surrounding it, take in other players’ theories and see if they complemented my own, and basically try to figure out what on Earth I had just witnessed with my eyes.
But, as the above headline suggests, I don’t just believe that Inside has a very good ending; I believe that it has one of the best endings in video game history, period. However, I also believe that this isn’t solely a result of Inside being bloody fantastic, but because video games in general have major trouble when it comes to delivering an engrossing plot from beginning to end. There is an inherent problem with the medium in this regard, and one that games such as Inside gleefully expose.
Inside revels in its ambiguity. Throughout the game, players take control of a boy venturing throughout a creepy factory, but the purpose of said factory is kept deliberately vague. All you know is that its workers are doing something inhumane within its walls and that none of them want you there.
There are deceased pigs strewn across the ground, their bodies infested by the mind-controlling worms previously seen in Limbo. Grotesquely mutated humans stand brain-dead in its halls, while body parts can be found lining its corridors. Just as you’re getting to grips with what you think the game is trying to convey to you story-wise, it throws another curve ball: a long-haired, underwater creature gives you the power to breathe underwater; gravity switches makes water float above your head eerily; and, finally, the boy you’re controlling is sucked into a giant groaning ball of disembodied arms and legs, with you spending the final portion of the game controlling it as it tries to make its escape. It’s weird, it’s gruesome and it’s amazing.
There is no satisfying conclusion to Inside. As the end credits roll, they take you by surprise. You have no idea what has just happened and are still left reeling from the series of events that have just taken place. This is in complete contrast to the overwhelming majority of games currently on the market, which each seek to tie up any and all loose ends for the player, leaving no stone unturned when it comes to exhaustively explaining each and every plot point so that the player is left with no questions to ask after they’ve been completed.
Take Uncharted 4, one of the biggest releases of the entire year, which is so visibly uncomfortable with concluding Nathan Drake’s story that it actively derails its own plot in order to give the game a happy ending. Going a little further back, the hugely divisive Mass Effect 3 ending was another example of developers finding themselves unable to allow a game’s plot to go its natural course, undermining players’ choices throughout the series by ultimately giving it a conclusion restricted to three options. This was a creative decision predicated on the idea that the ending of the game must be satisfying, and risking leaving a large number of players unsatisfied by having the decisions they made throughout the series lead to potentially disappointing consequences was not considered an option.
Triple-A games have always been, and continue to be, almost universally incapable of taking risks with their plot. This is despite games such as The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite having two of the most heavily discussed finales in gaming history, both of which refuse to perfectly tie up every minute detail in favor of allowing players to draw their own conclusions after the end credits roll. Inside does this better than most, including a number of deliberately vague pointers throughout the game that lead to a wide variety of reasonable theories, sparking rare friendly debate among the gaming community.
I want to see more of this – I want developers to not be so concerned with providing their players with a happy ending. I understand that many are of the opinion that players want to feel like they’ve accomplished something come the end of the game, whether that be saving the world from imminent destruction or rescuing a princess from a giant turtle dragon. However, that short-lived sense of achievement pales in comparison to an ending that stirs up a conversation between players in the way that Inside has. Playdead has put most other video games to shame by not only crafting a more compelling story than the vast majority of their big-budget contemporaries, but also doing so in a game that doesn’t even feature any dialogue. Inside‘s ending isn’t even remotely satisfying, but that’s the whole point – players don’t need to be rewarded with a happy ending, they just need to be rewarded with a good story.