A number of games feature multiple endings to their narratives. Right off the top of my head, I’ll name four: All three of the Deus Ex games, and Mass Effect 3. These come particularly to mind for a singular gaming conceit: The magic pick-an-ending button.
Regardless of what you’ve done, how you’ve developed and defined your character’s personality, who has lived and died, who you’ve befriended or opposed, you’re presented with three choices right at the end. Press the button (so to speak) and get the ending.
In narrative terms, that’s a cop-out. That isn’t even phoning it in.
The very nature of a satisfying ending in a narrative is an ending that inevitably emerges from who the protagonist is, whether the ending is in the nature of a victory or a tragedy.
In modern, Western fictional narrative, it often boils down to the choices made by the protagonist when they are at their lowest point, or their highest. Often two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through the story. From there, the way the narrative will end becomes either inevitable, or – if that inevitability is defied – unsatisfying.
These games each give us considerable scope to define our protagonist. Who she is, what she believes is right or wrong; her entire philosophy. And then, at the end, the game allows us to throw all of that away to pick an ending, perhaps presenting us with a choice of three, none of which we may particularly like.
That cheapens the ending and weakens the story, by allowing us to essentially discard our each-and-every choice up to that moment.
Satisfying endings are consequences of our protagonists’ choices, not specifically choices in and of themselves.
These games have endings that are entirely divorced from the choices of the protagonist (and you) throughout the game.
And I think we can do better. The original Fallout did. The ending of that game showed us the consequences of our choices. The game would have been nearly so appealing and satisfying it it had simply had us pick an ending. Fallout’s endings were all about our earlier choices and the inevitable consequences of them, and that resonated in a way which many, more modern game narratives, do not.