“End-Game?” Where’s the Rest of It?
Possibly the weirdest post I could have gone with to start talking about Children Who Play With Monsters, considering that I’m still working out the kinks of the system; yet, here I am, beginning with the end. My reasoning is that a really huge part of me thinks that I really just shouldn’t bother with the rest of the project if I can’t get the ending to work correctly — what could be worse than sessions and sessions of build up, and suddenly no payoff right when it matters the most? I imagine players don’t enjoy being Blue Diced — and I know for a fact that in the past I’ve felt taken out of the moment, or like I had missed a great opportunity when the resolution of a game I’d been playing in simply seemed tacked on. It wasn’t fulfilling.

So what counts as fulfilling ending? A fulfilling ending, in general, needs to:

  1. Make Sense. An ending apropos of nothing does not work, unless the prevailing thread throughout the story being told itself is “Apropos Of Nothing.” (which isn’t necessarily an unworkable theme, honestly)
  2. Come from the protagonist’s action (not his inaction). The protagonist needs to have gotten himself here, if not actually “pull the trigger” that ends the story (and I think that might be a necessity too).
  3. Resolve something relevant to the character who is experiencing his ending. In the case of Children Who Play With Monsters, this would be the understanding reached regarding the flaws of the parents/flaws of the world and the Child’s personal desires (ie, the real summary of NeverEnding Story is that Bastion learns that his imagination is all that can save the world, but he shouldn’t rub it in his Dad’s face for hassling him about hard work — remember, the Nothing was powered by everyone disregarding Fantasia and imagination)

Looking at these, what work is there for me to do?

Number 1, I have no control over – that is up to the player groups and is really all about them having fun. Moving right along.

Number 2, “Come from the protagonist’s action” is straight-forward enough — players are the sole arbiters of their individual story’s conclusion, and their story should not be considered resolved without their input, and especially their action to bring about a resolution. Do I really need to do anything here? Are there really any rulings to fashion? I imagine that a framework could be put up, one which helps keep things on a “proper timetable” for when the protagonist should go ahead and resolve things. Some sort of system to ensure that endings can only happen during “endings” and not during beginnings. A sort of plot immunity concept? This doesn’t quite have the ring to it that I want, though — honestly, I think this sort of thing is best left solely of the hands of the players; nothing in the final project needs to hold up, protect, spotlight, or highlight the ruling of “YOU ARE THE SOLE ARBITER OF YOUR PERSONAL NARRATIVE’S CONCLUSION,” except maybe a line that says exactly that.

That said, a form of this could be said to exist in Paul Czege’s excellent (from what I’ve read) My Life With Master. Throughout the game, your character’s scores fluctuate based on the outcomes of several scenes until a certain threshold is reached and the finale is entered into and one of several endings is determined — again, based on how your scores compare to one another. This idea right here has a lot going for it that might be worth looking into further, to see what can be gleaned from how it works and how it interacts with MLWM, and what it would require of Children Who Play With Monsters to make it work — the idea of tracking the Child’s interaction with the fantasy world around him, how he is affected by his journeys, and then the final resolution. It’s worth dissecting.

My Life With Master has 6 possible conclusions for each player character involved – they can integrate with society, be killed, eliminate themselves, wander still in the mindset of a minion, seek out a new Master, or become a Master themselves. These conclusions themselves function, in a way, as Number 3 above: They will resolve something relevant to the character and the player… in this case, just what happens to your abused Minion when everything is said and done? Were there a similar set-up with Children Who Play With Monsters, regarding possible endings/the most relevant theme of the game, it would have to revolve around what I explicitly stated above: the understanding of the flaws of the world around you, your individual maturity, and coming to terms with your Hang-Up or Issue (more on these concepts later). And honestly, when I think about it, there are only ever two ways this kind of story can reach its conclusion, a point made clear enough by others already — maybe not so literally, but in the genre it is definitely a question of innocence or maturity. So, I see it as playing and wondering throughout play whether your character will experience the Death of Innocence or the Birth of Maturity.

The distinction here between Death of Innocence or Birth of Maturity is possibly too slim worth considering — though, actually, I personally do not believe that. I see Death of Innocence as what happens when you grow up into a possibly scarred, or more typically just a scrooge of a person, or otherwise stunted. Birth of Maturity would be considered in fantasy story-telling terms as mastering two worlds — you’re not the problem-riddled child you were, but you haven’t lost that defiant spark.

Death of Innocence is what you see in, say, BioShock 2 (really just a very dark game of Children Who Play With Monsters) when Delta harvests a Little Sister… Birth of Maturity would be saving them. Very straight forward, very blunt — but a fairly apt examination of the most truly literal way of interpreting these conclusions, although more loose definitions of these endings are absolutely viable.

In Hook, the sequences where the Captain has been brainwashing Robin Williams’ son, are effectively the type of play to be supported by this game (as long as you ignore the terrifying kidnapping overtones, which are not present in the game). The idea being: Your Child is in a fantasy land, they have everything they absolutely desire, and they have a best friend. Never-Never Land? Check. He’s being groomed to be a pirate captain and he has his own baseball team? Check. Pretend Captain Hook is in a Lion suit or something, and you have a Monstrous Best Friend. The son is reveling in childhood now, but he will HAVE to grow up. That is the point of Children Who Play With Monsters stories — its whether he will develop stunted, or fully formed. And when the time comes, and enough adventures had been had, and the player acts on it, something may be in place to determine the son’s ending. (At first I wondered about how to handle a grown-up like Hook being so very childish; then I remembered in this example he is actually a Monstrous friend, and it only makes sense for him to be an overly zealous child. Interesting idea, the final confrontation being to get away from your friend who just wants to never stop playing)

Maybe track scenes in which the Child’s Hang-Up comes into play, and score it whenever the player succeeds/fails — eventually, having failed so many times involving their Hang-Up, the only possible ending would be Death of Innocence, or vice versa depending on how things develop? To start, I’d have to clearly delineate what I mean by these two options, what is encompassed by them, find some examples of what I’m talking about — and link them to parts of the character creation/character play process. And then, it’s just a matter of the play test grind, I suppose.

Please, feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below! Just a general musing this time over some possible ideas, some thoughts I’ve been having. How about you? What do you think of the Death of Innocence/Birth of Maturity dichotomy? Can you think of any books or movies that have an applicable scene or characters worth looking at?

As always, I can be reached directly at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com.