Games as a conversation

Even if both paths lead to the same destination, they provide unique experiences

Have you ever noticed while playing a game that after a certain amount of time, you begin to get a feel for how the game is structured? You start to understand how the developers are thinking while they were creating the game, which lets you to some extent anticipate what you are supposed to do in certain situations without explicitly being told as such.

It’s a fascinating thing. When I start playing a new game, it kind of feels like attempting to talk in a language you’re not familiar with, but the more you play it, the more you begin to understand and the better you become at conversing.This conversational metaphor becomes particularly interesting in games with hidden endings or paths.

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Take Hollow Knight, per example, which contains multiple hidden endings. Throughout the game, you are told tidbits of information that hint towards there being something more for you to find, but until you actually finish the game, you can’t know for sure. You are expected to finish the game with the normal ending first in order to realize, or confirm, the existence of secrets.

To accomplish this, the developers attempt to steer you through the game using subtle nudges with art, characters and other methods towards the “standard” ending, while still leaving enough hints along the way to make you question if there is more to find.

It can feel like being guided by the omnipresent hand of the developers, constantly pointing you towards the exit, but if you get far enough away from the standard ending, the hand starts pointing towards the alternative exits instead.

In this sense, you can say that games with multiple secret endings have multiple developer-intended paths, each of them resulting in a vastly different game experience, and each one enjoyable in its own right.

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Even games that don’t have multiple endings usually still have two developer-intended paths: the basic, story-driven path and the full exploration, 100% completion path.

Each of these paths can be a valuable experience, and when I find a game that I enjoy, I tend to do at least two play-throughs of it: one where I allow the hand of the developer to guide me or just do what I feel like, and one where I do everything possible in each section of the game before moving on. Not only does this extend how much enjoyment I get out of the games, but given that I often find entirely new things in my second playthrough, it doesn’t get old or stale. It also allows me to compare how much better I’ve gotten at the game compared to the first time I did the early sections.

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If you’ve not already adopted a multiple-playthough system, I encourage you to give it a try. Allowing yourself to just play a game as you like instead of trying to do 100% on your first playthrough is really relaxing, and can make a game feel much less stressful which makes them more enjoyable.

If you DO have a multiple-playthrough system, tell me about it!

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