October’s ’09 Round Table Entry – Denouement: The Gameplay Slowdown

Designer Denouements How can the denouement be incorporated into gameplay? In literary forms, it is most often the events that take place after the plot’s climax that form your lasting opinion of the story. A well constructed denouement acts almost as a payoff, where protagonists and antagonists alike realize and adjust to the consequences of their actions. Serial media often ignored the denouement in favor of the cliffhanger, in order to entice viewers to return. Television has further diluted the denouement by turning it into a quick resolution that tidily fits into the time after the final commercial break.

But the denouement is most neglected in video games where it is often relegated to a short congratulatory cut scene, or at most a slide show of consequences. This month’s topic challenges you to explore how the denouement can be expressed as gameplay.

(*Spoilers for God of War, Resident Evil 4, and Prince of Persia*)

The denouement, the oft forgotten portion of the story is the subject of this month’s topic. To even begin to understand how to use a denouement in a game one has to understand the climax and falling action. Most people miscategorize those two. Denouement is not just the quite moment after everything important had been resolved. It is the final moment. The moment after everything else has been resolved. It is the moment of reflection, the moment of the hero riding off into the sunset or the feeling that the world will continue on now that the story is over.

There is a problem in regarding the the denouement of a video game. Video games, those with stories anyway, tend to end at the climax. That is the moment that the whole game has been building to, where all the challenge and mechanics come to a head. It is the point in the game that the whole thing has been training you for. But then once the final boss is defeated we have a cutscene, roll credits. Were not only missing the denouement in such a structure, but the falling action, the cool down events. If they are there at all, they are portrayed in a quick cutscene meant to wrap up everything and leave nothing playable. I’m going to run through a few examples.

The original God of War is the only game I can think of that has anything resembling a denouement. Once you defeat Aries and save Athens, then what. You are treated to a cutscene about you’re crimes being forgiven, but not forgotten and you hurl yourself off a cliff. Then we are treated to one final section of gameplay of you climbing the stairs of Mt. Olympus to become the new God of War. That section of the game has no combat, no puzzles, save the hidden one, and nothing ties it to the rising action of the rest of the game. It is the game’s equivalent cool down period often found in Greek plays. It is not, however, the denouement. That section is still part of the game’s resolution and can be coupled with the falling action. The denouement would be the cutscene after you sit upon the throne.

Another example of gameplay after the final boss fight would be Resident Evil 4. The section after you fire the final rocket launcher and kill the whatever the hell it is you have to escape on a jet ski. That portion has a huge amount of action and tension associated with it, but it is simplistic compared to the complexity of choices made in the game’s combat. In this sequence the game is slowing down, but it is not a resolution. It is not a denouement, hell, it’s not even the falling action. What it is, is a prolonged climax. The falling action and denouement is then regaled to a quick cutscene with Leon and the president’s daughter riding off into the sunset.

Finally we have the new Prince of Persia. I’ve written enough about the content of the ending, but the actual structure of it does give a minor sense of a denouement. It’s just hard to pinpoint where exactly it is. If we accept the ending as is, retarded as it may be, the resealing of Ahriman is the climax, then carrying Eleka back to the alter is the falling action. The slow methodical walk, of realization for what happened is the resolution of everything that the game has been working towards. The denouement is then the action afterwords, unfortunately it’s also a second section of rising action that leads to a cliffhanger. Had the game ended with the Prince just leaving the canyon and have that be the end of the game it would have been a denouement that nicely closed the cover on the story.

These are just three examples, but they were the only examples of games I could think of that played beyond the final boss battle and climax of their respective stories. Most other games end their interactivity with the climax and let everything else run out with cinematics. We were asked to consider denouement is games and yet at this point in their lifespan I think it is difficult endeavor given that we don’t even bother with the falling action. Everything has to be taken in steps and first we have to cover that before we can really wrap it up.


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