Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings, apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.
Games play at our emotions in unexpected ways. When I read a book where something sad happens, I rarely tear up or feel true pangs of sadness, and while a film can always get me with a soundtrack (looking at you, Arrival), it's rarely the basic facts of what's happening that get me right in my feelings. Games, though, do something else entirely. Like I wrote last week, there is an emotional weight to the final moment of interaction that I just don't have language for. Knowing that I will not come back and see certain characters again, especially after dozens of hours, sometimes feels like a punch in the gut. I suspect that this is why some people play through Mass Effect, Dragon Age, The Witcher, and all of those other sprawling, character-heavy games with long-running plots. We get to interact with these characters again, and that interaction holds us in suspension until we're locked out of knowing them. A vicious cycle, for sure.
Even though I have some speculative theories about how it works, that process still gets me. Losing a certain scientist at the end of Mass Effect 3 had me reeling enough that I didn't ever want to go back and play it again. One of the most emotional moments in video games, period, is Blackbeard's tragic sacrifice in Assassin's Creed IV. And I will immediately cop to the fact that I find it mega distressing that I'm an adult man who can, at a moment's notice, access the raw pain of the death of a video game character. And yet, it doesn't make those feelings any less real, and it doesn't lessen the connections. Even stranger, I think, is that I can have all of those feelings vicariously.
The total time that I have spent playing an Uncharted game is probably less than five hours. We were late in the Playstation 3's console cycle, and I tried to play the first game, and it just didn't pan out for me. Nonetheless, I have watched every minute of every mainline Uncharted title thanks to the let's plays (LPs) of Chip Cheezum and General Ironicus. A "let's play," if you're not familiar, is when people record video (or take screenshots) of their playthrough of a game. Sometimes they do it to show what the game looks like at its most difficult; sometimes they just want to show off the entirety of a story in a fun and unique way. Most often, however, a LP is a scaffolding for personalities to interact around a game. Chip and Ironicus fit most comfortably within this latter category (although Chip, who does the playing for the pair, is an S-rank player on all accounts).
The first video of their Uncharted: Drake's Fortune LP is dated December 10, 2012, but I didn't get to know their work until 2014. I devoured every video the pair made, but even though their Metal Gear Solid videos were very close in entertainment value, I always drifted back to watching their Uncharted content. For the most part, the videos were straight-faced playthroughs of the Uncharted franchise, but the attention Chip and Ironicus pay to stories, details, and character interactions means that watching those videos were more like listening in on a smart, critical conversations and less like watching a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode. The in-jokes are great, of course, and I'll never see Victor Sullivan without thinking "there's grandpa" while also trembling in fear at the possibility of an indestructible "ghost-pa."
With that in mind, you might see why I dreaded the inevitable conclusion of their Uncharted 4: A Thief's End LP. Running since August and ending this week, the game has been a rollercoaster of emotions, and rightly so: It's the finale of Nathan Drake, smarmy goof man that he is, and that means there are heavy notes.
Early in the game, there's a long section where Drake makes his way through his own home. He's no longer the treasure hunter that he was. Instead, he's settled down, but he dreams about the old days with the help of his knick-knacks, priceless treasures, and guns that shoot foam darts. Drake mutters to himself about fictional enemies, and General Ironicus laughs: "This is magic!"
The magic is happening in the let's play moment. I'm not just enjoying the game, and I'm not just enjoying the two guys talking about it. I am enjoying this weird composite of a game filtered through the mind of two people I've never met. We're a decade into LP culture now, and if you're in it you probably think this is the most boring thing, but it never fails to amaze me that I can enjoy someone else enjoying something so much that I can't conceive of one without the other. I have zero interest in playing an Uncharted game, not because of some problem, but just because they're not for me. But Chip and Ironicus open up a door to an experience of a game, not just a game itself, in a very fulfilling way.
Of course, it has to end. Right after the long epilogue of Uncharted 4, which I refuse to spoil in any way, the credits bounce up. Ironicus says, "alright, I'm gonna spend the next six minutes crying." "Everyone was so happy! Everybody is happy!" they sort-of-yell. And me, watching this damn video of two people playing a video game, I get this emotional welling that doesn't make a single bit of sense. I'm happy that the game ended in a fulfilling and wonderful way, but that's multiplied by the fact that I was guided through the emotional journey by these other people.
This vicarious sense of ending is something that I've never felt before. I know that I feel a certain way about the narrative, and that it turned up to eleven due to the fact that these other people feel that way too. It's a validation of emotion that's unique, and strange, and I've never found or felt it anywhere else. No other LPer or duo has had this effect on me, and I wonder what it means. Wonderfully, the Uncharted series will never end again, so this feeling is singular and pure, never to be replicated.