Ron Gilbert about art and bad endings

I would like to invite you all to invest three minutes of your day/night to read the following text.

It’s a transcript of a part of the keynote that Ron Gilbert did at PAX Australia 2013, before the TWP project started.

There has been a lot of discussion about the ending of Thimbleweed Park. I think that the following statements about Ron’s personal vision of art might be enlightening. :slight_smile:

You also need to be willing to endure the pain of failure.

I spent several tormented months trying to come up with the genesis for Monkey Island but if I had not taken that trip into my own personal pit of despair…

When I read on Stranger Tides I just would have put the book down, thought it was a good story and moved on. But instead when I did finish reading that book everything made sense to me, it was immediate and it was overwhelming and within a half an hour of finishing that book everything fell into place. I just knew exactly what I needed to do.

For me, it’s probably not true for everyone, but for me something is perfect not when everybody loves it but when half the people love it and half the people hate it.

I’m not saying that creating something everyone loves is easy but in some ways it really is the easy way out. If you want to create something everybody likes, take a picture of a cute puppy and a kitten.

Everybody loves puppies but what have you really told the world? You’ve told the world that puppies are cute. How have you challenged your audience, what part of their imagination have you fired up? What part of their soul have you stirred and engaged?

Now, for me such a thing is the ending to Monkey Island 2.

That ending really polarized people. Half the people love that ending and half the people just hated that ending and really nothing can make me happier.

Now, the basic gist of that ending is this, for those of you haven’t played it…

Guybrush has been battling the evil pirate LeChuck for two games now and we finally come to the final showdown. They both find themselves in these strange concrete tunnels on Dinky Island and the LeChuck is tormenting Guybrush with a voodoo doll.

Now, Guybrush is slowly making his own voodoo doll over LeChuck through the magic of puzzle solving and once this doll is complete Guybrush begins poking at it but isn’t having any effect on the evil pirate LeChuck. So Guybrush pulls the leg off the doll and LeChuck falls to the floor.

Now, at this point the game becomes a complete parody of the scene of a new Return of the Jedi, where Luke pulls the mask off of Darth Vader to see the true face of his father. So if Lucas wasn’t gonna let us make Star Wars games, then we were gonna make fun of Star Wars. That’ll show George.

So LeChuck is lying on the floor missing a leg and on the brink of death and he begs Guybrush to come over and remove his mask. So reluctantly Guybrush kneels down beside the legless LeChuck and removes his mask to find his brother, Chucky.

Guybrush asked LeChuck why he hates him so much and Chucky/LeChuck says it’s because guy brush broke his Ultra Soldier Commando Assault Vehicle.

Now before things get too sappy, a janitor comes in and says “Hey you kids you can’t be down here.”. We then cut to an amusement park and these two kids come out of a door and meet their parents who are upset that they’ve run off to play. And we are clearly not in pirate times.

Now as the four of them walk off screen to ride a roller coaster and just as Chucky/LeChuck gets to the center of the screen he turns to the cameras and his eyes glow with little sparks of voodoo magic and the game just ends there.

To this day not a week goes by that I do not get one or two hate and profanity-filled emails from people over that ending.

I also get emails from people that tell me how much they loved that ending. And that ending really polarized people and that it means the ending meant something. I could have done it anywhere Guybrush and Elaine live happily ever after but no one will be talking about that ending 20 years later, no one would be sending me ranty emails about how much they loved how happy Guybrush and Elaine were.

Ranty emails really start my day in a lot of ways they are, they are my morning coffee.

Now the thing is I didn’t really have an ending from MI2 for a long time, we were almost done with the game and I still had no ending. It’s not like I didn’t have a bad ending that I hope I make better or
a mediocre ending. I just had no ending and I was starting to panic. Now panic can be an amazing motivator. Panic and fear often the lubrication of the creative engine.

So then one morning I was laying in bed and I was just staring at the ceiling and the ending to Monkey Island 2 to just hit me. Not with all the details like the Star Wars parody but the basic gist of it and it just felt absolutely perfect; it was odd and it was strange and I knew a lot of people would have just hated it.

But I also knew a lot of people would love it and it just felt right, it was kind of the ending that the game was waiting for. So next morning I got got back to the office and I sat down with Tim and Dave and Steve Purcell and we worked through all the details. I don’t remember who came up with the Return of the Jedi parody but it was perfect and it just fit.

When you were creating something, don’t be afraid to enrage your audience, don’t be afraid to make them hate you, don’t be afraid to challenge them and make them feel uncomfortable, it means you’re creating something that has meaning.

Now, you don’t want to do this all the time. You want to do it just enough to keep everybody thinking and unsuspecting. Art should challenge us. Art should make us think and it should make us examine who we are. Art is an object riddled with smart with sharp edges that can cut you, it’s like you can pound all those edges away and make it smooth and make it safe but we are left with is just the shapeless blob, it’s safe and it’s smooth but it’s uninteresting.

You shouldn’t enrage your audience all the time just to enrage them, you need to enrage them for a reason. I love cute pictures of puppies just as much as everyone else but I also like to read or watch or play things the make me stop and think “what the fuck was that?”. It’s like I never want to watch or play that again but I can’t stop thinking about it.

Link to the video.


This is hilarious!

But these people are demonstrating love just by sending those emails. I think.

Yes, I think that they are demonstrating that they love the game so much that the only possible response to that ending was, for them, outrage.

I have a whole basket with rotten smelly eggs with Ron Gilbert´s name on them. They´re filled with love!

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Are they for MI2, for TWP or for both?

Why this need to have an ending at all costs? I think the game should have ended with Guybrush that starts to remove LeChuck’s mask, and then something like this:

and then the credits.

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I enjoyed reading that. And it’s true - the ending of TWP didn’t leave me feeling complete and wanting to bounce around in a room filled with candy floss, before moving straight on to the next game on my list. It made me think, and made me try to process the story in lots of different ways. I’m still getting thoughts out of it, like I do with some of the best books I’ve read. Like Ron says, what’s the point otherwise?

Edit: wait, in that vein should i have responded with something more controversial? :wink:

You are still in time, but you should send it directly to Ron by email. It will be his tomorrow coffee.

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That’s fine and all, but at the end if the day, let’s keep in perspective that these are video games, not high art. It’s a commercial entertainment product.

I purchase video games to play and be entertained, not to transcend my consciousness or move my soul; and an unsatisfactory ending doesn’t stir anything in me, just frustration at the wasted time or emotional investment.

Your mileage may vary, of course. :slight_smile:

Also, I disagree on principle that for art to be good it must be divisive. To me that’s the cop-out. Making controversy is the easy way out, it’s the post-modern reaction du jour for rejecting classical traditions, perspectives, and aesthetics.

Making something that moves the masses and that can be appreciated at such an internal, emotional, and personal level that it transcends states of mind, political beliefs, cultures and even the passage of time, that’s hard.

Then again, these are just video games…


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For the kind of hats he wears at cons.

Ah, how I am still waiting for anything that makes me wanna do precisely that!

True, when a game does that (which is really rare) it´s a bonus, not a requirement for me to enjoy it.


All that said, I appreciate Mr. Gilbert’s perspective (even if I don’t agree with all of it), and for sharing his experience and wisdom with others. That is actually quite commendable. :+1:


Yes, of course, I fully agree. However, I don’t think the choice should be: “entertain,” “move,” or “annoy.”

I do agree with Mr. Gilbert’s overall point, if not with specific details: that when creating something, don’t be afraid of what others will think of it, just do what you feel is right.

I wouldn’t quite translate that into “actively seek to divide opinion,” but horses for courses. :slight_smile:


Yes but that´s the point of view of someone who wants to sell their product and generate a response. Any response is better than no response at all, and that includes negative response.

Well, that’s quite different from draping it over as some kind of artistic sensibility, though… :wink:

It might be a mix of both, if he gets some sort of personal enjoyment out of it, on top of that.

Sure, but getting personal enjoyment out of the frustration of others is not a noble goal, in my opinion. Yet, I doubt that is his true goal, perhaps that’s just how he rationalizes having to deal with critics who do not appreciate his vision.


And I totally understand that. If someone is frustrated, because he doesn´t see the things the way I do, I just cannot help them. Not when I´m convinced what I do is right. And I think people can really go overboard with their frustration, because as you said. afterall it´s just videogames.

Yes, I can understand that.

By the way, you seem to have edited out the word “perhaps” from your quotation of my comment. That changes the meaning, making it look like I am stating a fact about Mr. Gilbert’s state of mind, rather than speculating or projecting my perspective. :wink:

I’m sure that you didn’t want to claim that any form of art that is also a product aimed at entertaining people doesn’t deserve the label of “high art” (whatever meaning this label has for you).

Movies, songs, novels, musicals, operas, comic books, etc. all are commercial entertainment products. We might consider “commercial entertainment products” also paintings and sculptures shown in museums that you can visit paying a ticket.

It’s clear that the feature that makes a form of art an inferior one (assuming that art can be divided between “high” and “low”) can’t be just the fact that it entertains and that it is sold. There must be some other characteristic that lets you (or other people) label some art “not high”. What is this other characteristic?

Not intentionally!