Does the journey matter if the destination sucks? I’ve pondered this question a number of times, sometimes in regards to life in general, but frequently with regards to video games in particular. This Tuesday’s post on Mass Effect 1 brought this question to mind again, as Mass Effect 1 is the start of a great journey, but that journey’s final destination leaves something to be desired. When you get to the end of Mass Effect 3, you have reached the conclusion of a long series of choices, character moments, and battles as part of the story of one person’s quest to save the galaxy. Then, all that suddenly becomes seemingly irrelevant when you are offered four options for how the story ends, and some parts of those options don’t really make sense. While I’m more forgiving of Mass Effect 3’s ending than some other people, I will concede that it could have been a lot better. It was a remarkable journey, but when you get to the end you might wonder if it was worth it or not.
This question of the journey versus the destination perplexed me for some time, until I hit upon two rather obvious realizations. The first was that video games are a lot like movies, books, and TV shows, in that not a lot of them have truly satisfying endings. There are a few great endings, some good ones, and then a giant mass of mediocre or bad endings. The second was a response to a related question: if the destination really invalidated the whole journey, then why do I continue to replay games with questionable endings? If a bad ending makes everything up to it truly a waste, then I wouldn’t start the journey all over again, but I continue to do so, and that means that, at least for me, a less desirable destination does not compromise the value of the everything that lead up to that point, assuming the journey was a good one.
And with that, I had my answer. Yes, the journey matters, at least in gaming. A great journey is still a great journey, even if I don’t like where it ultimately leads.