Forms and Functions of Endings in Narrative Digital Games  book cover
1st Edition

Forms and Functions of Endings in Narrative Digital Games

ISBN 9780367542535
Published August 1, 2022 by Routledge
278 Pages

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Book Description

This book looks closely at the endings of narrative digital games, examining their ways of concluding the processes of both storytelling and play in order to gain insight into what endings are and how we identify them in different media.

While narrative digital games share many representational strategies for signalling their upcoming end with more traditional narrative media – such as novels or movies – they also show many forms of endings that often radically differ from our conventional understanding of conclusion and closure. From vast game worlds that remain open for play after a story’s finale, to multiple endings that are often hailed as a means for players to create their own stories, to the potentially tragic endings of failure and "game over", digital games question the traditional singularity and finality of endings. Using a broad range of examples, this book delves deeply into these and other forms and their functions, both to reveal the closural specificities of the ludonarrative hybrid that digital games are, as well as to find the core elements that characterise endings in any medium. It examines how endings make themselves known to players and raises the question of how well-established closural conventions blend with play and a player’s effort to achieve a goal.

As an interdisciplinary study that draws on game studies as much as on transmedial narratology, Forms and Functions of Endings in Narrative Digital Games is suited for scholars and students of digital games as well as for narratologists yet to become familiar with this medium.

Table of Contents


"And who cares about endings." – On This Study’s Aim and Motivation

Spoiler Alert! – What to Expect from This Book

1 Transmedial Narratology and the Multimodality of Narrative Digital Games

1.1 Transmedial Narratology: A Media-Conscious Approach to the Study of Narrative

Framing the Project of Transmedial Narratology

Narrative, Narrativity, and Narremes

Bringing the "Medial" into Transmedial Narratology: Narrative Potential and Media Modalities

1.2 Digital Games and Narrativity or: the Delicate Question of Modal Dominance

The Medial Qualities of Digital Games

The Digital Game’s Narrative Potential

The Ludic as a Discursive Macro-Mode

2 What Makes an Ending an Ending? Point of Departure

2.1 Ending and Closure as Part of the Narrative Frame

Approaching the Ending: "The expectation of nothing"

Evoking the Sense of an Ending: Closural Signals

Identifying Endings: Conventionality and Position

Denying Closure: Narrative Endlessness

2.2 Endless Play and Ludic Closure

Playing to an End: Teleology in Digital Games

Goals and Completability

Tying Loose Ends: the (Narrative?) Sense of an Ending in Digital Games

3 Ludic and Narrative Micro Forms – The Ending in Isolation

3.1 Isolating and Dissecting Digital Game Endings

3.2 "Once you enter this area, there is no turning back." – The Beginning of the End

Initiating the Sense of an Ending

Point of No Return

Changes Related to Content Narremes

Paratextual and Extradiegetic Labelling

3.3 "Here it is, the big boss!" – The Ludic Finale

The Final Challenge

Ludic Design and Gameplay Variations

Audiovisual Staging of the Ludic Climax

Extraordinariness via Narrative Context

Closural Conventions of the Ludic Finale – Summary

3.4 "It’s over. We can go now." – The Narrative Finale

Distribution of Narrative Closure in Digital Game Endings

Closural Use of Content Narremes

Audiovisual Closural Signals during the Narrative Finale

Agency and Ergodicity during the Narrative Finale

3.5 "Turn your computer off and go to sleep!" – The Paratextual Ending Phase

The Closural Effect of Paratext

Game Logos and End Cards

The Credit Roll

Evaluation, Ranking and Other Meta-Ludic Information

3.6 "The end is never the end is never the end" – Undermining Micro Form Conventions in The Stanley Parable

The Metaleptic Setup of The Stanley Parable

Happy Ending? – The Freedom Ending

Tragic Endings? – Avatar Death and Defeat

Paratextual Detours and Endings that Refuse to Stop

Confusing Expectations, and Closure, after all?

The Stanley Parable and Closural Conventions – Conclusion

4 Ludic and Narrative Macro Functions – The Ending as Part of the Entire Playing Process

4.1 Beginning, Middle, End? – Digital Game Endings in Context

Structural Ending Variations in Digital Games

Closed Circles and Endless Cycles

Don’t Trust the Credit Roll: A false Sense of an Ending

4.2 Open Worlds: The Post-ending Phase

"Enjoy everything this world has to offer!" – Ludic Openness and Completionism

Open Worlds and Narrative Closure

4.3 Parallel Potentialities: Multiple Endings in Digital Games

Narrative Branching and Player Agency

On the Path to Multiple Endings: Choice and Consequence

Making a Difference? Narrative, Audiovisual and Ludic Variation

All Endings Are Not Equal: Ending Arrangements and Hierarchies

Gratification and Canonisation: Why Games Employ Ending Hierarchies

A Ludification of the Narrative Mode

Multiple Ending Excess in Zero Time Dilemma

4.4 Game Over? The Closural Potential of Failure Sequences

Failure and Punishment

Failure Sequences with a Sense of an Ending?

"As a cyborg, you will serve SHODAN well" – Narrativisation of Game Over

"Wait! That one doesn’t count!" – The Acceptability of Failure

4.5 The End… or Is It? – The Pluralisation of Endings in Digital Games

What Makes an Ending an Ending? Conclusion



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Coming from a mixed background in software engineering and comparative literature studies, Michelle Herte graduated at the Institute of Media Culture and Theatre, University of Cologne, where she was a Research Associate. She is currently working in employee training for the Federal Statistical Office of Germany.