Types of fiction with multiple endings
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Multiple endings refer to a case in entertainment (usually video games) where the story could end in different ways.
Since multiple endings usually require audience participation, books are able to capture the concept better than movies or television. However, for the sake of telling a story, this device is rarely used. An example is the popular 1980s children's Choose Your Own Adventure series where the protagonist is "you," the reader, and you are given choices that lead to multiple outcomes.
The Charles Dickens 1860 novel Great Expectations underwent a change in ending just before publication. Modern editions often print both versions. (However, this situation is more akin to an alternate ending.) However, perhaps the first true multiple-ending novel was Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar in 1963.
In some comic book stories the readers are advised to make a choice, and then turn to another page, from which the story will continue. The 1983 strip Cliff Hanger was based entirely around this premise.
The 1985 musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, based on the incomplete 1870 Charles Dickens novel of the same name, has many possible endings. In the middle of a musical number in the second act, one of the actors announces that it was at this point that Dickens died, leaving the mystery unfinished. The audience votes on who they believe committed the murder. Each possible choice—even those considered unlikely to have been Dickens' intended guilty party—has a song in the score that will be performed if, and only if, they have been chosen as the murderer. The audience chooses which of the characters has assumed a false identity and appeared in the second act as a disguised detective, and the chosen "Dick Datchery" performs a song. And finally, the audience votes upon which two characters they'd like to see together in the end, and these two sing a duet. However, the same number, "The Writing on the Wall", always closes the show.
Dario Fo's 1970 play, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, provides two endings to the play. Firstly, the journalist, Feletti, leaves the policemen to die. Once this happens, though, the Maniac, who was off stage, returns to tell the audience that the ending would not appease everyone, and so another ending is played out. The second ending sees Feletti freeing the policemen, who then handcuff her instead, and she dies. This ending serves to show the police's corruption whilst also being comical for the audience, and providing endings that suffice more of the audience.
DVDs often include an alternate ending as a special feature. These are often interesting in terms of characterization and provide insight to the production team's vision for the movie, but are usually not considered canon.
When it was first shown in theatres in 1961, horror film Mr. Sardonicus featured a "punishment poll", in which audiences could vote (with glow-in-the-dark thumbs-up-or-down cards) on whether the evil lead character should die at the end of the picture. Audiences always voted for Sardonicus' death, which was fortunate, as producer William Castle did not actually film a scene where Sardonicus lived.
It is rare for a film to have true multiple endings, but one notable example is the movie Clue. Three different endings were used in the final version of the film (plus one unreleased fourth ending), with each having a different killer. This is a unique case in that the theatrical release had only one of the three endings, depending on the theater. For the DVD and video releases, all three endings were included, preceded by screen text such as, "That's how it could have happened..." The home viewer can either choose who he or she wants to be guilty, or the viewer can allow the DVD to choose randomly instead. A fourth ending (where the butler did it all) was filmed but scrapped. Clue was orchestrated this way in part because it was based on a board game which offers multiple outcomes. The stage version of Clue also has multiple endings to a certain extent; the killer is randomly selected before the show. However, the true mastermind is always the same at the end.
Also, in the movie Wayne's World and its sequel, Wayne's World 2, there are three endings; each of the first two end with the two main characters appearing on screen and suggesting a different ending, until ultimately deciding on the "mega happy ending".
Multiple endings also occur in the movies Drift (where the main character is seen to make one choice, then when the movie seems to end, it begins again back at a previous point in the film, where the main character makes a second choice, and it happens again for a third time) and Sliding Doors (where we see two versions of the film concurrently after "splitting" when the main character catches, and misses, her train). Neither of these films offers any ending as the "right" ending, but seem to offer both as plausible outcomes to different choices and events.
The movie Run Lola Run features three different "realities", with each story having its own ending.
The movie I Am Legend features an alternative ending.
The fifth season finale of the Rooster Teeth web-series, Red vs. Blue, had six alternate endings, and one canon ending. When the episode was first released, these ending were randomly generated when someone would visit the web-page, giving multiple experiences to the viewer every time they visited the page.
Due to their interactive nature, multiple endings have become popular in video games. This device is most often used in games that are story-driven, such as adventure games, RPGs, or survival horror, as opposed to games that are action-driven (like puzzle games, shooter games, platform games, or sports games). This was innovated and popularized by the RPG Chrono Trigger. Many such games will artificially enhance their length by encouraging more than one play-through via multiple endings. Generally, endings have to be vastly different in terms of plot to be considered multiple endings; having obtained certain characters to get slightly different results at the end of the game (as in Final Fantasy VI) does not count as a distinct ending. Also, the "Game Over" outcome is usually not counted as an ending in this context (although "bad endings" are counted). Also, there exist two different ways one could alter the story in video games; failing or succeeding to do an action (i.e. succeeding or failing to evade arrest in Heavy Rain), or the process of making a decision. Most games are more decision-based than failure-success based.
Multiple endings and continuity
In terms of continuity, only one of a film or game's different endings could possibly have occurred. Sometimes this is left unresolved, allowing an individual to interpret the end of the story as they will.
However, if a sequel is made, it usually becomes important to establish a narrative conclusion to the previous story (unless the sequel has little to do with the characters or certain settings of the previous game). Generally, one of the multiple endings is explicitly established as the "true" ending through the description of past events, with the other endings assumed to be speculation as to what might have happened. However, in some cases (such as the Resident Evil games), elements of more than one ending are drawn together to create a story that does not quite make sense if only one ending is to be accepted as canon. This is usually seen as a plot hole. Most Fighting Games have an ending for all characters, however, many of these endings either contradict one another or have no purpose story-wise, The next game in the series will tell whose ending, if any canonically happened, and often has parts of other characters' endings happening under different circumstances. For example, Guilty Gear X had many of the events that occurred to characters in their Guilty Gear endings, such as the rebellion on Zepp and May's "rescue" of Johnny, all happen, even though only Sol Badguy canonically fought and defeated Justice.
Sometimes, like in the Sonic the Hedgehog games, the player must beat more than one or all of the possible endings to reveal the "true", or canonical ending. Deus Ex: Invisible War dealt with all three of the endings of the original game by positing they all happened. The video game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, allows the player to choose which ending to the first game actually occurred, however, the Light-sided ending is considered canon.
In Mass Effect 2, the player can transfer their save file from the previous game, allowing decisions made in the first game to affect the second. Mass Effect 3 features the same system which transfers the decisions from the first and second games, although one ending is not transferable.
This sort of issue also arises when games have similar but different plot-wise campaigns that can be played. Warcraft: Orcs & Humans featured a human and an orc campaign and winning either would have one race dominate the other. In Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, it is was decided that the orc scenario is canon and the human one is not.
Or, all endings may be made Canon, like in The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. All of them happened due to a time rift created by the main character.