The monster at the end of this book
It’s 2014 and through some luck I finally got to see Terminator 2 in the cinema today. When it first came out I was a youngster, still in beta and not yet compatible with such things. I waited and eventually saw themovie on a magical thing called VHS. It instantly became my favourite movie of all time and has yet to be dethroned.
The movie though is only incidental to this story. In fact this story only began to exist in my mind literally as the movie ended. As Linda Hamilton ushered in the credits with the films final monologue it was apparent the movie was a complete, satisfying closed loop. The camera never wandered to an intentionally ignored future plot device and there was no bonus bit. It just ended, gracefully and with its message delivered.
It was in this moment I realised how common it had become over the past decades for me to sit through the credits, not because of wanting to bask in their slowly scrolling glow but because there is almost always something extra to see in them now. Something that hints at a sequel. Something that feels like a secret that’s intentionally too good to keep to yourself because it’s actually an ad. Things don’t “end” anymore, they take season breaks, go on hiatus and have intermissions. How did this happen? Well, we asked them for it and the industry listened.
At first glance this seems to be a good thing. Industry delivering exactly what customers asked for. What they want. Logically this is a good thing. What else could someone want after they’ve just experienced their favourite thing than more and what kind of heartless suit would you have to be to deny them that satisfaction? Just give everyone more of everything all the time and be the good guy, right?
But we don’t always get more. Sometimes our favourite things have their signature moment or post credits bonus scene that promises a sequel that never appears. The usual theory posited by fans is that it’s our fault. Suits say it didn’t sell enough. We Didn’t buy enough. Didn’t tell enough friends. Critics didn’t praise it enough. Logically it sounds reasonable so we promise to double our efforts.
This is the infinite, mathematically perfect loop of more. It only has one logical weakpoint. Us. Well, not you and me. It couldn’t be, we saw our favourite movie multiple times! No, it’s all those other people that collectively make up “us”. If we don’t get what we want it’s their fault. Finally, a common enemy. Time to enlist! Industry loves a good war. This right here could be the heart of gamergate, but I digress.
Now that the demand side economics are clear we arrive at the heart of the matter. The core of this algorithm is the content itself. As it turns out the requirement for unlimited content is a limit in and of itself. For games there’s no need to even wait for a vapid sequel. Infinitely extendable but entirely optional DLC is here to satiate our more lust. You can’t find two words more important to telling a great tale than entirely optional.
Terminator 2 of course got sequels. We thought we asked for more time traveling robots but what we actually got was an entertainment industry standard of infinite preservative filled sleeping zombies who’s catchphrase if they had one would be Halo 3's apt “wake me if you need me”.
So here we approach the close of this never ending story only to find we’re the monster at the end of this book refusing to give media it’s dignity. We’ve known all along it can’t self-terminate, Arnie told us. Even if occasionally some try, like T2 did, we demand they be resuscitated and be put on life support. This gives us the pleasure of such zombie treats as Terminator 3 and Salvation.
Occasionally we get lucky and masterful creators, even if only temporarily, work against our monstrous demands and make something meaningful. Something like us, with a begining and end. Mortal. In return for giving creations their deserved dignity, which has the power to take us out of this loop into the future, we give them real immortality in our memories and hearts…which incidentally feels truly satisfying and might just be what we craved all along.