I like happy endings. I like it when the guy gets the girl. Or the girl gets the guy. When the monster is killed and the day is saved. I like it when the bad guy gets his just desserts, and our heroes not only triumph, but they come out stronger for it.
This is why I’ve decided to skip Mass Effect 3. As much as I enjoy the series, I’m too afraid of how it all might end. I’ve spent two games fighting the Reaper menace, and I don’t want to end on an ambiguous shades-of-gray conclusion. I want the Reapers destroyed, the civilizations of the galaxy united, and a new era of prosperity ahead of me. Maybe that’s old fashioned, but I don’t play space operas to be depressed. I didn’t fight through two games to end on a bummer. And I’m not looking for a subtle, life-goes-on ending. I want triumph. I want to set down the controller feeling that I’ve made the universe a better place.
From what I hear, that’s just not going to happen. Maybe I’ve heard wrong, but all I know for sure is that I’d rather not find out if there’s even the slimmest possibility the game ends on a sour note. So very deliberately, I’ve decided to not experience whatever ending the creators might give me. I’ve created my own conclusion to the Mass Effect Saga, and by virtue of being both a professional novelologist and knowing my target audience (me) very well, it’s suitably kick-ass and leaves me very satisfied.
The thing that troubles me about Mass Effect 3 is that, while I haven’t played it, the creators keep responding to the fans’ dissatisfaction by calling it “art”. That, more than anything, puts me off. Because “art” is generally a bummer. I don’t know why that’s true, but it is. It’s almost universal, across all cultures, that anything with a positive element is “popcorn” or “genre”, but to be “art”, you gotta harsh my mellow.
It’s a false choice. It implies that there’s nothing to be learned from a story where someone doesn’t die needlessly, where tragedy doesn’t rear its ugly head. That’s fine. But it really doesn’t belong in a space opera where you play a one man (or woman) army who travels across the galaxy fighting for the greater good.
I’m cool with tragedies. I even like some of them. At the same time, I hate that we so readily dismiss happy endings as little more than cotton candy. True, there are light and fluffy romantic comedies, action movies, and slice-of-life wackiness that serve a useful purpose in our world, and it’s unfair to consider them worthless simply because they don’t win Academy Awards or Pulitzer Prizes. Yet not every happy ending is the stuff of fluff. Not every story where a character grows and becomes a better person (and maybe saves the universe while they’re at it) is empty of greater meaning.
In my own writing, happy endings are standard. Maybe one day I’ll write that story where everyone dies and nothing gets accomplished and nobody learns any lessons, but for now, you can be assured that my heroes won’t need to die, and they’ll probably be better off at the end than the beginning. Monster is probably the exception, though while our title character doesn’t learn much, our other protagonist does. Chasing the Moon is a story about a cosmos too complicated and unknowable to ever truly understand, but our protagonist does make peace with that. And A Nameless Witch doesn’t end exactly the way most romances do, but it does end on a positive note.
The false choice is that a story either ends with sunshine and rainbows OR gray skies and heartache, but there are degrees. A character doesn’t have to get everything they want to have a happy ending. All of my novels have happy endings, but it’s not as if everyone gets a million dollars, a solid gold robot butler, and the immortality serum. No, they usually triumph over whatever problems they’re facing, learn something about themselves, and find themselves in better circumstances. This might seem frivolous, but it isn’t unrealistic.
While I often get dismissed as a fluffy writer, I don’t write happy endings because I think the world is a nice place. Far from it. The world has a hell of a lot of problems, and it will continue to have a lot of problems. People die needlessly. Misery is all over the place. And in the end, civilizations rise and fall with nothing much to show for it. Heck, the dinosaurs were much cooler than we are, and look what happened to them. Life is cruel.
But it isn’t always. Good things happen. Stories that acknowledge this aren’t empty of meaning, and sometimes, we triumph (often despite ourselves). “Art” doesn’t have to be vague or ambiguous. It can be complex, thoughtful, and fun. These are not contrary traits.
Believing this will probably keep me from ever being a “serious” writer, but I don’t care.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, Zala Shepherd has to attend a ceremony given by the leaders of the galaxy for her incredible victory over the Reaper menace. She didn’t do it for the glory, but hey, that’s life as the greatest military hero in the universe.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,