I finished a game this week. I was glad to have played it, but I was sad to have finished it.
The DLC for the original Outer Wilds, Echoes of the Eye. It’s a DLC that is so substantial that it’s almost an entire game on its own.
This is a feeling that I never get from movies, very rarely get from TV series, and occasionally get from books. Games, though, I get it a lot from games.
I think it’s a factor of time spent and thoughts devoted. A really good book, with a story that hooks me, will have me thinking about it for days or weeks. It is the rare TV series that will make me think about it for a while after I’m done watching it. Games are experiences that you have to exist in. There are areas of the first Dark Souls that I know as well as streets of my home town. I expect they will echo back to me for years or even decades to come.
Outer Wilds is the sort of game that makes me wish I could experience it again for the first time.
When you finish this DLC, a story that is woven into the original so deftly that it could easily be part of the original play through, you have the option of stopping there or going back and completing the original game with the new knowledge you have acquired. I chose the second one.
It had been a while since I had finished the main game, so rather than puzzle out what I had to do again, I looked up a walkthrough. Outer Wilds is a game that you can finish in a matter of minutes once you know what to do, so I belted off and started getting things done. Turns out I probably didn’t need the walkthrough. As soon as I started completing tasks, it was like rapid fire nostalgia. I remembered everything and nailed every step. The story of that journey is part of me now. Just like the stories of Star Wars, or hundreds of episodes of Star Trek, Outer Wilds is embedded in my memory. Not because I watched it so many times, but because I experienced it. Games can do that. They create a different sort of memory. That’s why you feel it more when they are over. It’s not like a movie, with a two-hour runtime, or a book with a set number of pages. A lot of games are experiences you live in for as long as you want to keep going. And when you end them, it’s because you choose to end them. I didn’t want my time in Outer Wilds to be over, but I knew that I had seen all that it offered, and it was time to let it go. It didn’t end, I decided that it was time to stop playing. To stop existing in that world.
As far as storytelling mediums go, I think that is unique to games. The player chooses when they are over.
I was felt sad to finish Echoes of the Eye, but I am immensely glad that I played it. If you haven’t played Outer Wilds, you absolutely should. Just don’t blame me for your lingering ennui and melancholy. That’s just part of the experience.