Often derided as passive gameplay, are quick time events and button prompts actually a wonderful and emotional way to the close a story? Sean Cleaver recalls his experiences with relinquishing control in finales
It’s no secret that emotional moments become even more poingant when the drama hangs in the air. I remember the end of David Tennant’s tenure in Doctor Who. The swell of the orchestra as the countertenor constantly sings ‘goodbye’ in Latin, the camera pans to Tennant’s face and there’s a pause, the longest pause until his final words. Then I am on the floor in a puddle of tears in the foetal position.
These moments occur in games too and for me, one of the the best ways to convey them is a technique so often criticised – a quick time event.
The euphoria is mixed with the pain of letting go of the experience
I DON’T WANT TO GO
I have to thank developer Rami Ismail for inspiring this piece with the conclusion of his ‘Mom vs FFXV’ Twitter thread. Rami’s mother had never played a game and over the last few months has been playing through Final Fantasy XV. The conclusion of her experience a few weeks back reminded me of my own journey with the game and how I didn’t want it to end. I started FFXV with apprehension. I saw the movie and was a little bit underwhelmed. I’ve never been a fan or player of the series to date so why would I not be apprehensive?
However, after several hours things began to make sense and it was one moment in that game that engaged me. Sitting above a garage, Prompto talked about his past with Noctis and let his guard down. Through this, I caved. I rewatched the movie, I watched the anime and when the time came to end the journey, I realised I was saying goodbye to all of these characters I’ve grown to love.
I’ve had the big battles, I’ve parted with my companions and at the very end I have no choice. I have one button to press – X. I don’t want to. I know I have to but I don’t want to. This is nearly 100 hours of investment and it’s all summed up in this one final press of a button. I sit in front of the screen, controller on the floor working up the courage to press it. After what seems like eternity, I press X.
The euphoria of finishing the game is mixed with the pain of letting go of the experience and believing that what you did was best for that world. The tone of the music makes for a powerful and happy conclusion. Dawn has broken and you did good.
IS THERE A CHOICE?
I remembered other games where a button, even if it is a choice, heralds the end of your time with a game. Life is Strange asks you, the player... Nay, asks you, Max, to make an impossible choice. Giving up love for the sake of saving lives. You know what the right choice is, as does Max. For those final moments, you are her. This is the end and at the press of a button, the worst thing that has ever happened to you will happen – but it needs to happen.
Many games will not give you a chance to make a decision. Halo 4 is a good example where a QTE plays out to get you to an end so that you don’t miss out on the cinematics. Much like FFXV, there isn’t a choice. Life is Strange, however can only subjectively end one way. It’s a choice you see coming a mile off and definitely don’t want to make. But you have to. So the game gives you those moments to pause, reflect and finally commit to the shattering conclusion you chose.
Dramatic pauses are normally used to hieghten the tension before the reveal of a piece. Games can give you the option to control the length but really, do you control it? Or do you just use the time to come to terms with the inevitable and press X?
Games so often are about controlling the action, but these moments are about surrendering to the experience. Without giving back control to the game and allowing the story to run its course, we can never look back and appreciate the journey.
Relinquishing control and encouraging reflection is a joy, especially when you’ve played 70+ hours of a game. We don’t want an end, but we know we must.