Scum over, game bag!

The first ending, before the epilogue, was pretty much covered in the plot analysis in the last part, so let’s disregard that and move onto the first epilogue ending. This is an interesting case for a few reasons: First, it is the only point in the game where the player is given a choice as to how a dialogue plays out. What does this imply? Well, first, it reinforces that Biker acts where Jacket reacts, that he takes an active role in uncovering the story which, no matter what path the game took, Jacket never would. Other than that, I don’t actually have a lot to say about this ending that hasn’t already been said. Many have hypothesized that the janitors are avatars of the game developers, who then go on to question the game itself. While this interpretation is supported by the dialogue, it also supports the more literal ‘hidden’ ending that you get after collecting the puzzle pieces, which is actually quite elegant.

Indie as fuck

So let’s talk about the hidden second ending.

I didn’t like it. It felt like a total let-down, after this crazy inexplicable meta plot, to have the actual explanation be something so prosaic, and set up by such a needlessly fourth-wall breaking premise as the password. I disliked it to the point where I denied that it was the ‘real’ ending, whatever that means, and declared the other ending the real one.

It’s grown on me.

Uh, yeah, I just was testing to see if you knew, haha. Yeah.

The problem is, most of the people who enjoy the storyline of Hotline Miami loved the ambiguity, the strangeness, the uncertainty. Under those circumstances, what kind of ending could satisfy them? The human tendency is to stop interpreting and solving when a story is concluded, to take whatever is said last as the definitive ending even if everything up until that point has been of questionable veracity. An ending is a closing off, a conclusion.

Or is it?

Think back to playing the game. Think back to the questions, the mysteries, that drove you forwards as you played. Now: How many of those did the ending actually answer?

I wanted to make a difference, so I joined 50 Blessings. Now everyone looks up to me! They basically have to, hypovolemic shock robs them of the ability to walk!

The ending answers one question, possibly the least interesting question posed by the game, that of the titular Hotline Miami. This ending accomplishes two things: First, it gives you an intriguing hint that the world the game takes place in is not our world, and second it tells you nothing that you’ve actually been asking.

This frustrated some people. Oddly, many of these people wished that the ending had been more open-ended, all without realizing that relative to the main plot of the game the ending was, in fact, completely open ended. We still know nothing about Jacket, whether he lived or died, how much of the experience we played through was real.

All I know is that I know nothing. Also that you’re a jerk.

And, most elegantly of all, the developers have set up a world which they can easily use to tell more stories, all without ever actually settling the question of what really happened to Jacket.

We will never know.

How exciting!

  1. cactus said:

    Hey there! One half of Dennaton here!
    Reading this made me very happy, thank you for writing about our game.

    • Oh, I’m glad you liked it! I’ve enjoyed your work for a while now, starting with Psychosomnium, which is a big part of the reason why I picked up the game right away. Looking forward to whatever you guys cook up next, whether that’s more in the vein of HLM or something else completely.

  2. Hi,

    I wasn’t a huge fan of the secret ending either. I thought it might’ve been added to satisfy the gamers wanting answers to the in-game plot. Since I thought the whole meta narrative was awesome, I didn’t really need the in-game one to make sense. But other gamers would surely think the opposite. It’s cool that the game serves both types of fans.

  3. asdasd said:

    I’m pretty sure you have to kill everyone in the second floor of the phonehom building with Biker to trigger the fight with Jacket, though. Don’t you? Or did I just do that to match up with the way it was the first time I came through there?

    Anyway interesting analysis, thanks for writing it. I don’t mean to belittle it but given how, er, ‘obvious’ the violence angle is I actually think the more interesting examination the game has to offer is in terms of the role narrative plays in games; whether the context a game creates to give you a reason to play it (the president has been kidnapped; are you a bad enough dude to rescue the president?) ‘matters’, for want of a better term. You can’t avoid having a context of this kind – even chess has one – its an incidental part of the presentation. But if you come to the conclusion (as I believe the game does/developers did) that this context doesn’t ‘matter’ – should be of secondary consideration, secondary priority, to the game itself, the act of playing, which not coincidentally in Hotline Miami is fine-tuned, and sublime – then the only logical thing to do is to go out and actively construct a context (a narrative) which doesn’t ‘matter’ – which doesn’t make sense.

    Other people have written about this far more cogently. The conversation on RPS recently that began with this comment

    for example. The subject in question with regards to HM2, the big blinking capital-letter subject, doesn’t really get the treatment it needs – that will have to wait for the weeks and months following the game’s release, I suspect – but as far as HM1 goes, Sam comes in with some points that spark a really interesting discussion, only tangentially related, about the nature of the first game that are a more sucessful development of what I’m trying to get at here.

    • Thanks, this is a great comment and very thought provoking. However, I have to disagree.

      If the creators of HLM wanted to forward a genuine argument that context isn’t important, then they are doing it in kind of a backwards fashion. Though that is the claim made by the avatars in the first ending, it falls completely flat within the context of a game where such care was taken with tone and atmosphere. If they truly believed the context of the gameplay were irrelevant, why would it be so carefully crafted?

      Why is it so violent? You could make the same game without the scalding water, the bursting eyeballs, the collapsed heads — the motion, the rhythm, the action, would all be the same. But it would be missing something: It would be missing the discomfort, the dread, the lead ball in the gut that I got the first time I played this game and tried to find my way through a world that didn’t make a lot of sense.

      This is also, I believe, the reason for the rape scene. In most games, you play a bad person doing bad things: Torture and murder are routine, and realistically worse things would happen from the destabilization caused by single-handedly murdering an entire country’s armed forces. All of that is abstracted away in most games, but HLM does the opposite, makes it bright, technicolor, nauseatingly hypnotic, and by so doing it tells us something even more uncomfortable: A lot of the time, we kind of like that shit.

      It’s not important to me whether it does it on purpose.

      I don’t, in the end, care what statement the creators WISHED to make.

      This is my reading, and I find it compelling, and I find it meaningful: I find it relevant to the narrative of my own life. Context always matters. Our very lives are controlled by the narratives we build them around. Games are no different.

      • asdasd said:

        It’s absolutely the game’s crowning achievement that there is room for multiple readings, that it can simultaneously be about multiple things, without it being a (total) cop-out of ‘ooOOOoh isn’t this weird? You’ll just have to make up your own meaning!’ – although surely we can all agree it is kind of that too, and that to a certain extent it’s the game other crowning achievement that it’s so damn *good* that a surfeit of goodwill has shielded the developers, as far as I can tell, from the kind of backlash that usually comes from being purposefully vague.

        As far as my reading (caveat: my literacy level with games is pretty poor and I should really be sticking to the picture books) goes, it wouldn’t have been enough for the devs to say ‘we want to say ‘context is meaningless, so let’s just do anything’. It’s not a game without a message so much as it’s a game with a very specific message – one about games having messages.

        So you have to have enough of the violence, enough extrinsic motivation, enough of a coherence (importantly not narrative coherence but experiential coherence; the lead balls in the gut) for the player to be constantly adding to a glorious edifice of ‘mattering’ (matterful?) context, glimpses of which they keep seeing, feeling, or being told (scraps) about as they progress. Everything matters, but only in as much as it *seems* to matter, when really it doesn’t at all. (No need to crush anyone’s eyeballs for me; arguments like these will surely have them rolling right out of your skull.)

        Where I think we diverge is that I believe that, in the case of this game, the primary purpose of that edifice exists so that it can finally collapse in upon itself like a game of David Lynch’s Non-Euclidian Jenga, allowing that statement (which I do believe the creators wished to make) to emerge. Whereas, for you, the edifice remains intact. Well, not intact, obviously, so much as strewn around the room like a violently disorganised length of intestine. :)

        Anyway I was a bit brisk and back-handed with the praise, so let me say again that despite our disagreeing I found your analysis really interesting (and really funny!). I will be sticking around for more in the future. Hope that’s okay with you!

      • asdasd said:

        (Sorry, we obviously diverge before the point I suggest – probably just after the comma that follows ‘Everything matters’. I have that awful habit of adding things to my posts without properly considering how they effect what I’m leaving in place beyond them.)

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