The Space Between Us
Naomi Alderman asks: Can a story only have one ending?
Is there something inherent in the idea of 'a story' which means it can only have one ending?
I write novels, and I write games. People often ask me about the difference between the two, perhaps hoping that I'll say: novels are *serious* and games are *silly*, or some such. But the most exciting difference, the difference that makes a difference is: games can have more than one ending.
Of course there are novels with more than one ending; The French Lieutenant's Woman, for example. But that's not the norm. With games, you expect to be able to influence the ending, at least in some ways. Your choices, in the character you're playing, should be able to change the final outcome, or what's the point of having choices at all?
Now, sometimes people say to me: but if you can change the ending, how is that a story?
So here's my answer.
Most of our modern Western literary tradition comes from the root of Greek tragedy. That's where we start - those hard, strange plays about men tangling with gods and Fate and coming off worse. And those plays have only one ending, of course. That's the whole point: they're about things that are fated to happen, that could never change. And that's one kind of truth about life. Sometimes, whatever we do, we'll end up sleeping with our mother and killing our father.
But there are other kinds of truth about life, ones which are perhaps more relevant now than ever, when we're no longer kept in place by rigid class and social structures. Sometimes, we can change our endings. Perhaps we can't start off a hoodlum and end up President. But maybe we could end up a good dad. Or a kingpin. Or a corpse in a gutter. That's what games can explore: stories that don't need to have a single ending. The "possibility space" of a human life.
It's a different way of thinking about what it means to tell a story, yes. But all the more exciting for that.
Naomi Alderman is speaking at The Space Between Us. She is a games and fiction writer. She tweets @naomialderman and her website is: www.naomialderman.com
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