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Confusing Video Game Endings Explained

In today's gaming climate, many adventure games and RPGs play more like interactive novels than the side-scrollers of yesteryear. Well, you'd expect a novel to have a clear beginning, middle, and end—but not all video games stick to the script, so to speak. Experimental developers like Hideo Kojima and Goichi Suda (a.k.a. Suda51) seem to get their kicks from messing with players' expectations, drafting contrived, convoluted, and downright confusing endings to their games—seemingly to get gamers talking (or chucking their controllers in bewilderment and rage). Let's take a look at some of the most confusing video game endings and try to figure out what they really mean.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III

The Treyarch-developed Black Ops sub-series has always dabbled in more experimental territory than the other Call of Duty games. Their latest entry, the aptly-titled Call of Duty: Black Ops III, casts players as a cybernetic soldier augmented with cutting-edge technology and robotic limbs following a brutal mission that goes south real fast. After being saved by John Taylor (played by Christopher Meloni), your unnamed soldier undergoes rigorous surgery and becomes linked to Taylor via DNI (or Direct Neural Interface—a fancy way to say a cybernetic telepathy). What follows is a series of increasingly surreal missions that begins with typical political conflict, makes a pitstop in a neurological landscape called the Frozen Forest, and ends with the player purging their DNI in order to erase an evil sentient AI named Corvus.

Except none of that happens, and you've actually been slowly dying in a hospital bed somewhere.

At the very end of the game, after Corvus is seemingly wiped from existence, a soldier approaches you and asks your name. As the Frozen Forest monologue plays through your purging DNI, you quietly mutter: Taylor. Cut to black.

To make an incredibly long story short: the entire game has seen you reliving Taylor's memories from missions long-past, while your body—and your mind—slowly dissolve as you succumb to fatal injuries. This one baffled players until eagle-eyes gamers slowed down the mysterious, super-fast-moving text before each mission, and picked up clues about the true events surrounding the player's fate. Really subtle ones like, for instance, "They were pronounced dead shortly thereafter."

​No More Heroes

Where Black Ops III ended with a melancholic exploration of morality, identity, and the fine line between human and machine, the denouement of Suda51's No More Heroes... didn't.

First, it's revealed that the United Association of Assassins, the group lead character Travis was tasked with eliminating by "tournament organizer" Sylvia Christel, was never an actual thing. Next, after deciding to finish what he started by assuming the top rank anyway, Travis is confronted by a stranger named Henry... who claims to be his long-lost twin brother. As they duel, sparks fly from their beam sabers, with Henry making one final claim: Sylvia is his wife, a con woman who regularly disappears to collect phony tournament entry fees to satisfy her lavish lifestyle. A few lines of meta commentary follow about the protagonist being unable to tie up loose ends, and the two lunge at one another anime-style... only for the scene to flash, transitioning to a painting of their fight.

To make things even more confusing, after the credits finish scrolling over the painting, the camera pulls back to reveal Sylvia standing beside a young girl whom she addresses as "Jeane," the same name as Travis' homicidal sister and top-ranking assassin—whom he'd killed only a few battles earlier.

While it may seem like the hackneyed ending of a B-movie with zero self-awareness... that's exactly what it's meant to imitate. The nonsensical conclusion to Travis' journey is the result of Suda51 weighing in on gamers' obsessions with blood, guts, and mayhem. The story doesn't matter—and Sylvia, who teases players with the now infamous (if inaccurate) line, "Too bad there won't be a sequel," dupes players just like she duped Travis himself.


Drakengard tells the tale of Caim, a young man who reluctantly makes a pact with a dragon named Angelus after his parents are murdered by one of two warring factions—the Empire. Swearing vengeance on the evil coalition—which collectively worships mysterious creatures called Watchers—Caim joins the Union to take up arms against the magically-possessed Empire. While he starts off fighting for the right reasons, he quickly grows cold, even relishing in his murderous antics.

Often cited as an example of the "grimdark" subgenre of fantasy, Drakengard was probably one of the weirdest, most depressing Japanese games to cross the Pacific in the early 2000s. So it's no surprise that one of its many endings would have players staring melancholically into the dark stormy night—and scratching their heads. Ending E, the fifth possible ending, depicts Caim and Angelus entering a chasm in space and time, appearing in modern day Tokyo, and confronting a massive Watcher called the Queen-beast... only to be immediately shot down by fighter jets and killed.

Yes, it's impossibly, wonderfully absurd. But it's not without a unique purpose.

Ending E causes a fork in the Drakengard timeline which effectively sets in motion the events of the Nier universe, an alternate dimension that was not unlike our real world prior to 2003. After the deaths of Angelus and the Queen-beast, the former's body was collected for study while the latter's decomposing flesh dispersed a material called Maso, or "demonic element," throughout the world, forcing humanity to make pacts with extra-dimensional deities and establishing the seriously messed-up world of NieR RepliCant, NieR Gestalt, and, eventually, NieR:Automata.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

The long-awaited sequel to Konami's Metal Gear Solid finally showed up in 2001. But a few hours in, gamers were collectively gazing at their televisions in confusion—and maybe even a little unease.

Something just felt off. As if we, the players, were reliving memories that weren't our own. And, in a way, we were. As new protagonist Raiden's mission grew more surreal, elements from the original Metal Gear Solid started cropping up without explanation. Your trusted friends and allies eventually revealed that they're part of an AI Illuminati called the Patriots. Oh, and you're in a simulation—the S3, or Selection for Societal Sanity plan, a program meant to simulate a strenuous situation in order to control a subject by more or less barking objectives at them.

After one last sword fight with Solidus Snake—a Liquid Snake analog and fellow Big Boss clone—things proceed to get even weirder. Raiden begins to question his true self. The city streets are suddenly flooded by pedestrians and scrambling police officers. Snake approaches you and begins lecturing on the subjectivity of reality, urging Raiden to create his own truth and craft his own identity.

Now, a tirade like this might seem out of place in an otherwise action-packed stealth title like MGS2 were it not for the fact that evoking cognitive dissonance is series creator Hideo Kojima's whole shtick. His surreal, even happy ending is meant to inspire players to pave their own paths, even if love, friendship, and the "right" choice can seem fake—even fabricated—every now and again.

The Stanley Parable

Like the 2006 film Stranger than Fiction, The Stanley Parable asks a single question: What if you could hear the narrator of your own story? But whereas Will Ferrell's fantasy dramedy saw his character convincing his narrator to ultimately spare his "life," the relationship between nefarious narrator and titular Stanley is not so sympathetic.

Here's the gist: The Stanley Parable is a narrative-driven exploration game that takes place in an empty office building. As Stanley, the player is tasked with following the orders of an omniscient narrator as he dictates your course of action, ultimately assisting Stanley in shutting down his office building's mind control system and escaping to begin his life anew. Or, you know, not doing that at all.

Of the 19 possible endings to The Stanley Parable, the majority of them are far less pleasant than the "freedom ending." Often, these narrative branches conclude with Stanley plummeting to his death, getting crushed by giant metal jaws, or otherwise suffering some absurd demise at the hands of his own curiosity. But that curiosity—regardless of its consequences—is exactly the point of the game.

Whereas The Stanley Parable's freedom ending sees Stanley dismantling the mind control systems—the machines impeding his free will—he does so because he is told to do so by the narrator. Every other possible outcome of his adventure disrupts the actual mind controlling agent, resulting in Stanley's self-actualization as a free-thinking, albeit dead, being.


After inadvertently saving the life of a future dictator during a time distortion on Russian research station Katorga-12, protagonist Nathaniel Renko accidentally rewrites history. With the player's help, he must alter his actions in the original timeline to allow it to return to its original state. The end of the game sees you provided three choices: kill Nikolai Demichev (the objective bad guy), kill Viktor Barisov (the objective good-ish guy), or take down both.

Each action you take results in its own respective conclusion: if you Kill Barisov, you and Demichev kickstart a new Cold War. Kill both, and you trigger the apocalypse. Killing Demichev, however, sees you forced to travel back in time to shoot yourself, thus preventing the alternate timeline, but creating a new one where good-ish guy Barisov... takes over the world anyway.

After killing yourself in the past and ending the lives of that version of you along with Demichev, the screen fades to white. Enter a cutscene strikingly similar to the game's opening, but now you're no longer "Spartan Team." Instead, your squad is called "Hammer 21." And there are Russian symbols on your team's helicopters, and a giant statue of Barisov wearing the TMD—or Time Manipulation Device—juts ominously from the ocean. The endings may be pretty clear cut, but the message isn't so obvious. No matter which decision you choose, the time-traveling gauntlet known as the TMD winds up in the hands of a power-hungry tyrant who uses its capabilities to assert his authority over the world. There's no such thing as a "good guy" in war.


Inside takes place predominantly within a massive, mysterious research facility, where players are tasked with taking control of a young boy as he learns about its creepy mind control experiments. Eventually, he infiltrates its depths in order to unleash a monstrous human-meatball-potato called the Huddle. Still with us? OK. Good.

After freeing the blob from captivity, the boy is absorbed into its "body," at which point the player assumes control of the Huddle, rolling throughout–and promptly smashing–the facility.

You must have so many questions.

Inside manages to convey a gripping and horrific sci-fi tale without a single spoken word. And while the plot is left ambiguous, players have come to a mostly-agreed-upon consensus: The Huddle is a hivemind composed of the limbs and organs of human experiments that's controlling the boy, who the hivemind perceives as a means of escaping. Eventually, free from his oppressors, the Huddle rolls down an artificial mountain and lands in a patch of sunlight, dying. Or finally catching a breather. Cue credits.

But there's another ending, only accessible after an initial play-through, that's even more mysterious. It involves finding a hidden bunker in a corn maze, manipulating a lever using a sequence of directional motions, and then accessing a room where a mind-control helmet is hooked up to several monitors. The boy removes a large plug from the wall, the helmet sparks and powers down, and the boy slumps over, no longer controllable.

It's widely accepted that the helmet represents the player—you. So the boy just unplugged you from the game, ending your control over his actions, ending the game, and ending the part you've played in his dystopian nightmare for good.

Bioshock Infinite tries to keep Quantum Physics simple

A good indication that a game's story is about to get confusing is when quantum physics gets involved. While 2013's Bioshock Infinite did a great job of trying to make complicated concepts like flux pinning and quantum entanglement easy to understand, there's only so much you can do with a plot as complicated as that of Elizabeth Comstock.

Playing as Booker Dewitt, a man hired by the Lutece twins to essentially kidnap Elizabeth and bring her to them, things start to get complicated as Elizabeth opens up tears to alternate realities. Going between these realities causes not only changes in your timeline, but insanity in any NPC who gets caught in the cognitive dissonance of their multiple existences. By the end of the game, it is revealed that Comstock, the overzealous prophet of Columbia, is none other than you, Booker Dewitt. 

As Booker, you sold your daughter Elizabeth to yourself from another timeline. This timeline finds Booker going by the name of Comstock, having had a religious conversion and created the floating city of Columbia. In order to keep Booker from either selling his daughter or becoming Comstock in the first place, Elizabeth must drown Booker at the point where his timeline splits. By doing this, she can stop the alternate timelines before they start.

Braid goes deeper than you think

The 2008 release of puzzle platform game Braid gave gamers a bit more story than they might have anticipated. Marketed as a fun side-scrolling puzzle game with problems to solve and interesting time-travel mechanics, no one was expecting the confusing ending they received. With everything else about the game being relatively straightforward, the symbolism of Braid's conclusion left many puzzled.

In Braid, players control Tim, who seems to be the typical male protagonist searching for a princess to rescue. It isn't until you reach the end of the game that you find the princess ... who runs away from you. This starts to hint to players that Tim isn't who they thought he was. Under the assumption throughout the entire game that you are playing as the hero, it quickly becomes apparent that Tim might be the bad guy. 

With a quote from Kenneth Bainbridge, the director of the Manhattan Project, and the fact that the princess explodes at one point in the game, leaving a burning city in her wake, it can be concluded that Tim represents a scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project with the princess representing the atom bomb itself. Tim is pushed forward by his desire to fix something he feels guilty for: his involvement in the creation of an atomic weapon. He's now trying to make amends for the part he played in its creation by stopping the bomb from being detonated.

Among the Sleep brings childhood trauma to life

It's not every day that you get to relive childhood trauma and see the world as a horrifying nightmarish illusion. But if you play Krillbite's 2014 survival horror game Among the Sleep, you just might be lucky enough to do both. The start of the game finds a toddler eating birthday cake with his mother when a mysterious stranger at the door interrupts the festivities. You're unable to hear exactly what your mother and the stranger are talking about, though it's obvious it isn't a pleasant conversation.

After this encounter, players must take the toddler through a nighttime world of fears and phobias in search of his mother. Throughout the game you're stalked by a terrifying shadow monster who attacks if you make any sound, forcing players to run and hide. At the end of the game, you come to realize that the dark shadow figure you were running from was the mother you were trying to find, who is often neglectful or outright violent and intoxicated, as was hinted by the plethora of wine bottles found throughout the story. The toddler's father, who visited in the beginning of the game to bring your character his trusty teddy bear sidekick, comes to rescue the player character from the bad domestic situation and promises to repair the teddy bear that the mother broke.

Sacrificing for your art in Bendy and the Ink Machine

It's not often that a video game can totally ruin the nostalgia of Disney for you, but Bendy and the Ink Machine manage to to just that, turning memories of Steamboat Willie into nightmares. In this sepia-toned horror-fest, gamers play as Henry, an animator who used to work at Joey Drew studios and has returned to the studio at the request of his former boss. The studio has changed drastically since you last saw it, and the ink machine used to create the cartoons has become an imposing and ominous presence.

It soon becomes clear that Joey was using the ink machine to bring the animated characters to life, often turning them into nightmarish versions of their original selves. While some of these ink creations cannot touch the rivers of ink found in the studio for fear of dissolving, others seem to be immune to the threat of ink but are able to die without fading away. After being chased by a monstrous version of Bendy himself, the player will find themselves back at Joey Drew's apartment. In this flashback to the beginning of the story, Joey has invited Henry to his apartment as a way to lure him to the studio to turn Henry into one of his monsters. While some are simply made of ink, those who are capable of dying were former workers, sacrificed to the ink machine. And now, you've met the same fate.

It's not a lake in Alan Wake, it's an ocean

As scary as writer's block can be, it might be worse to have a demonic presence forcing you to write a book in exchange for your kidnapped wife. In Alan Wake, this is exactly what happens. Frustrated with his work, Alan and his wife, Alice, go to the town of Bright Falls to get away. But after a shadowy entity drags Alice into Cauldron Lake, Alan must save her.

This is not the first time a writer has been lured to Bright Falls by this shadow. Alan, being the latest victim, was brought here so that a shadow monster can escape from the lake through Alan's writing. Using a light device infused with his own words to combat the shadow, he defeats the monster but realizes he must give himself to the lake to free Alice. In doing so, Alan finds himself back in the cabin with his unfinished manuscript, and must now finish the book to escape through his own writing, just as the monster attempted to do. At the end of the game he remarks, "It's not a lake — it's an ocean," referring to the vast and unending cycle he is now stuck in, just as the shadow was, and the momentous task of attempting to escape.