Video game stories suck.
As much as it hurts me to write that sentence, it’s almost universally true of our favorite medium. Whether it’s a higher priority placed on gameplay or the failure of the writers to graduate the third grade, gamers pretty often draw the short end of the stick when it comes to quality tales. For games that truly offend in the plot region, the good old ‘fan conspiracy theory’ can always make the pain go away.
Sometimes, just such a crackpot theory can make a good story even better. Other times they can hoist the rotting plot-corpse of an otherwise fun game and transform it into a pseudo-religion for social outcasts.
In any case, I’ve come up with a list of three games with fan-made theories that either redeem a truly terrible plot or enhance a great one. We begin with a heavy hitter, and my personal favorite…
#1. Final Fantasy VIII: Squall is Dead
The term ‘brainf#@k’ can be utilized in a surprisingly number of completely reasonable ways: the forced banishment of one’s mind to insanity, a programming language, or even repeat viewings of Big Momma’s House 2. In the world of video games, however, nothing can hold a candle to the notion that the guy whose entire emotional journey you’ve just experienced over the course of 70+ hours has been dead since the end of Disc 1.
Such is the tragic, and yet deeply moving story of the game’s protagonist, Squall Leonhart. That is, if you believe the increasingly popular theory circulating the internet. What makes this idea so fascinating is really the way the character of Squall is developed. He never exactly feels like the sort of hero you’d want out in the field, fighting for your freedom. Frankly, he’s an obnoxiously angst-ridden teenager with no business swinging that big-ass gunblade around.
So, the theory goes like this. Near the end of the first disc, Squall and friends are dispatched to assassinate the ultimate evil that is Edea. Unfortunately for Squall, he sucks too much in combat to actually kill her, leaving himself vulnerable to her magical wrath. This ends in the same way for Squall that every honorable defeat in battle does.
Needless to say, this is the moment that spawned the ‘Squall is Dead’ camp. Surely this is the end for Squall, what with his lungs and liver being skewered? From here on, the game makes an undeniable shift plot-wise from a semi realistic military-esque tone to something like this:
Sprinkled into the plot itself are the rest of the hints as to the truth behind this theory. A complete (and very verbose) list of all of the evidence for the case can be found on the aptly named theory fansite, squallsdead.com. A few of the strongest include:
- “My wound…? No wound…? how?” – Squall upon awakening in a Galbadian prison after being killed.
- Squall suddenly becoming Rinoa’s sole romantic interest, despite her obvious indifference to him in favor of Seifer in disc 1.
- The pictures in the ending cutscene including only images that Squall personally saw on the parade float just before he was killed.
These points, among others, are very well thought out on the above linked theory fansite.
In the end, what’s really poetic about this whole idea is how in incorporates the title of the franchise into the story. If Squall has indeed been hallucinating the entire plot of the latter three quarters of the game, it can be said that he is experiencing his ‘final fantasy’ before death. That’s a pretty grim perspective to take on this whole adventure. Sad enough, even, to forgive some of the outright ridiculous situations of the story and attribute them to Squall’s failing body.
#2. Half Life: The G-Man is an old, leathery Gordon Freeman from the future
Though this idea certainly can’t contend with the Squall is Dead theory in terms of factual support, it’s still gained wide-spread curiosity recently. It’s also just a damn interesting concept to picture our silent hero Gordon Freeman becoming a time traveling creeper with a mysterious agenda.
The concept is simple. The events that the player experiences through the course of the Half Life games are set in the ‘present,’ being when Gordon is nearing his 30′s. At some point in the distant future, Gordon manages to simultaneously perfect a teleportation device and invent a method of reliable time travel. This is a reasonable claim, considering that he is the man with the largest cerebrum in the entire goddamn universe.
Now, at some point in his later years, an unknown event occurred that forced Gordon to travel back in time in order to guide his younger self on a rebellious mission against the Combine. This is where the ‘present’ Freeman meets his older, significantly less youthful self.
This is where the speculation ends. It’s completely unknown what the G-Man’s true intent is, or why he would have needed to travel back to watch over himself. This really lends itself quite well into the mystery that shrouds most of the Half Life universe. What horrible future was Gordon trying to prevent?
Support for this theory is actually quite sparse, being mostly physical in nature. Both men indeed have black hair and greenish eyes, and are approximately the same height. Other clues include the name similarity between the two and the fact that Gordon was able to experience primitive teleportation in the beginning of Half Life 2, suggesting that he could easily perfect it later on.
In reality, this theory is really based solely on one’s ability to believe an ill supported claim simply for the magnitude of its statement. Gordon and the G-Man being one and the same would definitely make for some interesting water-cooler talk, assuming Episode 3 ships and reveals any truths.
#3. Mass Effect 3: Shepard was Indoctrinated
The Shepard indoctrination theory is one that comes out of sheer fan desperation. When earlier I said that insane plot theories could reanimate the figurative corpse of a story killed too young, it was the fate of Shepard that I had most in mind.
In the big “finale” of Mass Effect 3, our beloved Commander Shepard is seemingly blown to pieces by a direct hit from a giant reaper beam of death. Moments later, we’re overjoyed to see that our hero has somehow survived! But…
Suddenly, Shepard awakes in a room with the ghost of a boy who he witnessed die earlier. This isn’t just any room, it turns out. It’s the interior of the crucible. And that kid that went down with the chopper in the beginning of the game? He’s the Reaper God, or something similar.
Already, the entirety of the trilogy has boiled down to one entity at one moment. It turns out that God child was totally cool with Shepard deciding the fate of the galaxy with the help of three handy levers.
It’s hard to argue that this ending makes much sense. In the very least, it’s pretty disappointing considering the epic scale of the adventure that Shepard and friends undertook over the arc of all three games. This is where the indoctrination theory comes in to save the day.
According to this concept, Shepard was actually indoctrinated some time prior to the final assault on the Reapers. The exact details of this process are quite complex and well thought out across the internet, but they boil down to this series of events:
As Shepard makes the final charge towards the Reaper, he’s hit by what appears to be a giant death beam. Suddenly, the screen fades to white, and moments later Shepard awakes on the ground. When this happens, there is a distinctive blur effect present, and the UI is completely removed. From this moment on, many speculate Shepard is beginning to succumb to Reaper indoctrination.
Further evidence of the process comes during the standoff with the Illusive Man, when Shepard loses control of his own body, and black tentacle-like limbs appear on the edges of the screen. Codex entries explain that these are indeed signs of indoctrination.
The evidence continues to mount up until the finale with the God child and the levers. Indoctrination theorists speculate that these choices actually have nothing to do with the fate of the galaxy, but rather Shepard’s internal battle with Reaper indoctrination.
Of all of the insane video game theories I’ve seen, this is the best documented and most likely to be true. A mind numbingly complete account of all of the evidence can be found here.
In the end, video game theories can bring a whole lot of entertainment to an otherwise questionable plot. Each of these concepts alone can make for interesting second playthroughs simply to investigate how true they could possibly be.
There are a whole lot more of these insane theories out there, and I’d like to hear them. Post your favorite crackpot video game plot theories in the comments!