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Why I Hate Seeing the Credits Roll: An Essay on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II

Matt Ciarvella

Although this editorial has been written in regards to Star Wars: KOTOR II, it could very easily apply to just about any RPG with a great story...

From the very first time you load the game, your mind is whirling with questions: who is my character? What's my role going to be? What's the plot going to be? Who's the bad guy? Where will I be going? You start out awkward and confused... many times you'll feel a bit lost because all of this information about the story just flies past you, and you don't get a chance to digest it (even though digesting that information is what the game is all about.) I remember that, when I first played the original KOTOR, I didn't realize the significance of all the information on Darth Revan until just before the big plot twist.

As you ease yourself into the game and you start meeting the other characters, your basic questions start to answer themselves, but at the same time, your mind inevitably focuses on one overriding concern: what's going to happen at the end of the game? In my case, character romances are one of the best parts of the story... so I'm often very concerned about the fate of my character's love interest, and what will happen to them.

By this point, if you're particularly enthralled by a great RPG, you play it as much as you can, as often as you can. Some may call this "addiction," but I hesitate to use such a word, however true it may be. For me, there's a significant distinction between an RPG addiction and an RPG enthrallment. Addictions come more often when you play MMORPGs, and you play not because you are absorbed in the story, but because you feel you -have- to get that next sword or gain that next level or whatever. Enthrallment, on the other hand, is mitigated by an overwhelming desire to "know what happens." Once the story has been exhausted, you generally end the enthrallment and move onto something else, as opposed to an addiction, where you continue to play long after the game's fun has drained away. But let's return to our little progression anecdote.

Soon, you're getting closer to the inevitable climax. Major plot details are starting to be revealed now, and you might have already been thrown a couple of twists. Now you're really charged up, because you know the end is near. Yet at the same time, a sense of uneasiness begins to grow in your mind, because you also know that sooner or later, you'll come to the last room, and the story's inevitable end. You don't want the story to end, but you must know what happens, and so you forge onward.

Finally, you're at the climax, the finale, the last battle. It's always filled with some sort of tough battle or puzzle that challenges all of your gaming skills. But if you're playing a particularly good RPG, then it's not the difficulty of the last battle that makes it important, but the fact that by now, you've seen where the rabbit hole leads. And then, even as the final blow is struck, even as you make one last death-defying escape, even as your character is given their due, you know the game has ended. You, the player, are pleased because now you know what happens to your character and his friends... you know who has lived, who has died, and who's going to settling down to get married happily ever after.

And then, all too soon, the screen changes and the credits begin to roll, and the game is over. And you're left asking yourself the same question you were asking since the first time you turned on the game: "What's going to happen now?" At this point, you are left with two options: wait for the sequel, or indulge yourself in some fanfiction. If you're particularly lucky, you can even have the option of writing your own fanfiction, which, even though it may not be that good, gives you a chance to re-live the game again, vicariously experiencing the story again. Or you could continue the adventure on even after the climax, making up your own answers to the dreaded "what happens now" question.

Otherwise, you'll inevitably have to wait for the sequel, which will take at least a year, during which time the enthusiasm and attachment you felt for the game and its character will inexorably fade away. And even when you play the sequel, you won't be able to fully re-capture the wonder and amazement that the first game had.

Or, if you're more addicted than enthralled, you could play the game again using a different type of character, but that's never an option I embark on more than once, simply because now, I already know the story, and searching for little treasures and hidden things is only amusing for so long. Either way, the intense but brief period of initial enthrallment is gone.

And that brings us to my current situation. I've just finished KOTOR II, after playing it pretty heavily for the last week, as well as watching my girlfriend play it. I'm glad that I know what happens, but I'm left feeling empty, too, because I know that tomorrow, I won't have anything new to look forward to... the game's finished, and there's nothing left to do but move on to the next one. There's hope, of course, that I'll find another game that's as enthralling as the one I've just finished, but there's usually some difficulty there, since for every exceptional RPG, there are three or four mediocre ones.

This is the quintessential difference between RPGs and all other games. In Halo 2, for example, even after the game ended, there was still multiplayer to keep the player busy, which in that specific instance, is actually more fun than the single player game. In these types of games, the story isn't the prime reason we keep playing... we do it because the gameplay is fun, or there's neat stuff to do... not because we're so deeply into the plot that we actually care about our characters and what happens to them. This is the curse of the RPG, and storytelling in general. Once the story is told... it can never be the same.

As for me, I'm fairly certain that this marks the end of the current KOTOR II universe. I highly doubt Obsidian and Bioware will be able to squeeze out another full-length game involving Revan and the Jedi Exile... if they do continue to use the KOTOR universe, it'll most likely be placed much further up or down the time line, using new characters. And while it'll undoubtedly be fun to play, a large part of me wants to know more about Revan and the Exile. I want to go on more adventures with them and develop deeper bonds with both of them as characters, especially since, while they exist as separate entities to each other, they're really both different aspects of me, the player.

Which, I must note, is the single greatest achievement made in the KOTOR games. Your character, Revan, goes on to have an effect on the game universe on such a magnitude that, as you play with a totally different character, you're still seeing your other self throughout your journey. That probably came out a lot more confusing than I meant it to be... let me try again. Essentially, all the things that you did as your first character can be seen and experienced from a totally separate perspective... even that it's you at the helm of that second perspective as well. It's a little bit paradoxical... but also very interesting to think. After all, how cool is it to know that the game's most famous (or infamous character) was, in fact, -you- the entire time. And by the end of the second game, you've essentially established yourself as the game's most important character a second time.

Unfortunately, no amount of musing or reflecting on the game's meaning can ever replace the feeling of playing the game, totally new, for the first time. The hours of gameplay, for the most part, have been exhausted now, and in that wake is a mostly empty expanse of free time. Real life will resume its customary dominance over that time for the most part, until the next exceptional RPG comes along and repeats the cycle.

In a way, it's a lot like coming home from the greatest vacation of your life, and knowing that, despite all of your great memories and grand experiences, the real world is still exactly the same, and nothing for you has really changed. And thus, your only consolation is to bide your time until your next escape back into that alternate reality, where your mundane life becomes something totally different, and exceptionally exciting.

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