9 Shocking Video Game Twists


First, let's get this out of the way: This post is full of spoilers. If you haven't played the games below, the endings and/or best parts will be spoiled. You've been warned. Here are some of the biggest reveals in video game history, in chronological order.

1. Metroid, 1986

At the end of Metroid for the Nintendo Entertainment System, we learn that the hero, Samus, is female. While this should not be a surprise—I'd seen plenty of women as sci-fi protagonists (Ripley from Alien, Sarah Connor from The Terminator, Sarah Jane Smith from Doctor Who and later The Sarah Jane Adventures, etc.)—it threw me for a loop as a kid. I just assumed that Samus was a dude under the armor. This assumption was reinforced by the game's manual (PDF) referring to Samus as "he."

This is a great example of a "twist" that's both dated and sexist. As an eight-year-old in the mid-'80s it surprised me. Today (ahem, Chell in Portal?), it wouldn't be a thing. To make things worse, if the player completed the game quickly, the reveal would include progressively less clothing. Yikes.

2. EarthBound, 1994

In EarthBound you play as Ness. When a meteorite crashes near your house, you enlist the help of Pokey, your annoying neighbor, to check out the meteorite. Along the way, it becomes clear that the evil alien Giygas is in the process of destroying the universe. Thus begins a many-hour role-playing game.

The big reveal is that your annoying neighbor Pokey is really a villain, in league with Giygas. When Ness finally defeats Giygas, Pokey taunts Ness with a letter reading, "Come and get me, loser! Spankety spankety spankety!" In the sequel (Mother 3), Pokey has become an immortal time-traveler. And you thought your neighbors were jerks.

3. Final Fantasy VII, 1997

The Final Fantasy series is huge and sprawling; it's too complex to explain briefly. But one of the biggest moments in the series comes in the middle of the hugely popular Final Fantasy VII, when Aeris, a major character whom you have played for many hours, is suddenly killed. This comes as an incredible shock for the player, as she seems to be set up as an ongoing character. For many gamers, it was a surprisingly emotional moment, and not just because they had spent forever trying to equip and train the character—she was awesome.

The death is so legendary that GameSpot called it "the most shocking moment in video games, the most spoilerific spoiler of all time."

Game designer Tetsuya Nomura created Aeris (also known as Aerith due to the tricky translation from Japanese), and commented on her death in Final Fantasy VII:

"Death should be something sudden and unexpected, and Aerith's death seemed more natural and realistic. When I reflect on Final Fantasy VII, the fact that fans were so offended by her sudden death probably means that we were successful with her character. If fans had simply accepted her death, that would have meant she wasn't an effective character."

4. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, 2003

Throughout KOTOR, you play a Jedi with amnesia, trying to recover his memory. Much of the plot involves making light side/dark side choices, working up to a big battle against the evil Darth Malek, a former apprentice of the super-duper evil Darth Revan.

The big reveal is, you are Darth Revan. You've been brainwashed. When the reveal happens, it's mind-blowing.

5. BioShock, 2007

Throughout BioShock, you're guided through a crumbling underwater utopia by a man named Atlas, speaking over a radio. Atlas seems very helpful, telling you what to do and how to get it done—he's a key part of the game, and you build trust with him over hours of play. But Atlas isn't who or what he seems.

Near the end of the game, it's revealed that the protagonist, Jack, has been brainwashed, and he's been responding to a trigger phrase all along. That phrase is: "Would you kindly?" When the phrase is uttered, Jack does whatever he's told—including kill.

The freaky thing about this moment is that it recontextualizes the whole game. While Jack did have some legitimate choices in the game (for instance, to harvest or save the Little Sisters), for the most part he was being controlled by Atlas, who used the trigger phrase throughout the game to make him do things he might not have chosen to do, had he known what the real situation was. This brings up lots of interesting questions about free will.

6. Portal, 2007

Portal includes another unreliable character communicating via voice; this time it's GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) guiding protagonist Chell through a series of tests with the promise of "cake" when they're complete.

It becomes obvious early on that GLaDOS is not a friendly machine, but a murderous one. Because of this, it would be reasonable to assume that the cake is yet another lie. After the final fight that leaves GLaDOS in charred pieces, there are two twists: First, the cake was real (despite seeing "the cake is a lie" scrawled on walls earlier), and GLaDOS is "Still Alive":

When Portal 2 was in the works, the ending was changed slightly, retconning in an abduction of Chell. (Arguably a third twist?) The unseen robotic abductor thanks her for "assuming the party escort submission position."

7. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, 2007

In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, a first-person shooter, you played from the perspective of two people: a Marine and an SAS commando. The game swaps perspectives routinely, so you get used to occupying these two guys' points of view. What's shocking is that, in the middle of a mission, one of them is killed off.

In the game, it's a shocking moment—we hear that a possible nuclear threat is nearby, then seconds later the city is nuked and the shockwave crashes the helicopter we're in. The player dies after seeing the mushroom cloud from the ground. His team is also dead. It's the kind of real-world logic that is often defied in video games. We expect that the protagonist of the game will find some way to survive this moment, but nope, that's it.

8. Braid, 2008

In Braid, you play Tim, trying to rescue the Princess from an evil knight. The game is brilliantly complex, and users employ game mechanics related to reversing time to get through puzzling levels. As a platformer, there are many nods to the Mario games, though Tim is no cartoon plumber.

In the stressful final level of the game, the Princess is rescued by the knight. In other words, Tim is the monster pursuing the Princess; he's not the hero—the knight is. It's a bit of a gut-punch. And there's a deeper level to the puzzle, if you go into the epilogue and read up on your nuclear history (I'll leave you to Google that).

9. The Silent Age, 2012-2014

The Silent Age is a point-and-click adventure featuring Joe, a janitor living in 1972. The game begins when Joe discovers a dying man with a time travel device. Joe uses the device to visit 2012, only to find that the future world is a wasteland, devastated by some plague. Throughout the game, you use the time travel device to solve puzzles—jumping between time periods, you can access areas that are blocked in one or the other era.

There are two episodes of The Silent Age, and the biggest twist comes near the end of the second one (released in 2014—the first episode arrived in 2012). The plague is a strain of the flu. What makes it interesting is that Joe was Patient Zero in a global flu pandemic, caught in the future and brought back in time. As he feels the flu beginning to affect him (back in the 1970s), he uses a primitive cryogenic chamber to both freeze and isolate himself, to prevent the pandemic. He wakes up in 2012 to find that although his flu is easily cured (and has not destroyed the world), the world of 2012 is no better than the world of 1972; he still works a boring job, and little has changed for him, despite saving the world. It's a moody game, and the twist makes it that much more delicious. (Note: there are even more twists if you factor in Frank, another janitor who visits the far future, and some details about Dr. Lambert, working on the flu treatment, but it gets very confusing very fast. There's also a suggestion that Joe has been through this whole time-travel trip multiple times.)

The Criterion Collection
14 Deep Facts About Valley of the Dolls
The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

Based on Jacqueline Susann's best-selling 1966 novel (which sold more than 30 million copies), Valley of the Dolls was a critically maligned film that somehow managed to gross $50 million when it was released 50 years ago, on December 15, 1967. Both the film and the novel focus on three young women—Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke), Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), and Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins)—who navigate the entertainment industry in both New York City and L.A., but end up getting addicted to barbiturates, a.k.a. “dolls.”

Years after its original release, the film became a so-bad-it’s-good classic about the perils of fame. John Williams received his first of 50 Oscar nominations for composing the score. Mark Robson directed it, and he notoriously fired the booze- and drug-addled Judy Garland, who was cast to play aging actress Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward took over), who was supposedly based on Garland. (Garland died on June 22, 1969 from a barbituate overdose.) Two months after Garland’s sudden demise, the Manson Family murdered the very pregnant Tate in August 1969.

Despite all of the glamour depicted in the movie and novel, Susann said, “Valley of the Dolls showed that a woman in a ranch house with three kids had a better life than what happened up there at the top.” A loose sequel, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls—which was written by Roger Ebert—was released in 1970, but it had little to do with the original. In 1981, a TV movie updated the Dolls. Here are 14 deep facts about the iconic guilty pleasure.


To promote the film, the studio hosted a month-long premiere party on a luxury liner. At a screening in Venice, Susann said the film “appalled” her, according to Parkins. She also thought Hollywood “had ruined her book,” and Susann asked to be taken off the boat. At one point she reportedly told Robson directly that she thought the film was “a piece of sh*t.”


Barbara Parkins had only been working with Judy Garland for two days when the legendary actress was fired for not coming out of her dressing room (and possibly being drunk). “I called up Jackie Susann, who I had become close to—I didn’t call up the director strangely enough—and I said, ‘What do I do? I’m nervous about going on the set with Judy Garland and I might get lost in this scene because she knows how to chew up the screen,’” Parkins told Windy City Times. “She said, ‘Honey, just go in there and enjoy her.’ So I went onto the set and Judy came up to me and wrapped her arms around me and said, ‘Oh, baby, let’s just do this scene,’ and she was wonderful.”


Costume designer William Travilla had to assemble 134 outfits for the four leading actresses. “I didn't have a script so I read the book and then the script once I got one,” he explained of his approach to the film. “I met with the director and producer and asked how they felt about each character and then I met with the girls and asked them what they liked and didn’t like and how they were feeling. Then I sat down with my feelings and captured their feelings, too.”


In an interview with Roger Ebert, Susann offered her thoughts on why Garland was let go. “Everybody keeps asking me why she was fired from the movie, as if it was my fault or something,” she said. “You know what I think went wrong? Here she was, raised in the great tradition of the studio stars, where they make 30 takes of every scene to get it right, and the other girls in the picture were all raised as television actresses. So they’re used to doing it right the first time. Judy just got rattled, that’s all.”


During an event at the Castro Theatre, Duke discussed working with Garland. “The director, who was the meanest son of a bitch I ever met in my life ... the director, he kept this icon, this sparrow, waiting and waiting,” Duke said. “She had to come in at 6:30 in the morning and he wouldn’t even plan to get to her until four in the afternoon. She was very down to earth, so she didn’t mind waiting. The director decided that some guy from some delicatessen on 33rd Street should talk to her, and she crumbled. And she was fired. She shouldn’t have been hired in the first place, in my opinion.”


All of Neely’s songs in the movie were dubbed, which disappointed Duke. “I knew I couldn’t sing like a trained singer,” she said. “But I thought it was important for Neely maybe to be pretty good in the beginning but the deterioration should be that raw, nerve-ending kind of the thing. And I couldn’t convince the director. They wanted to do a blanket dubbing. It just doesn’t have the passion I wanted it to have.”


Garland got revenge in “taking” the beaded pantsuit she was supposed to wear in the movie, and she was unabashed about it. “Well, about six months later, Judy’s going to open at the Palace,” Duke said. “I went to opening night at the Palace and out she came in her suit from Valley of the Dolls.”


Fox held a preview screening of the film at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, but the marquee only read “The Biggest Book of the Year.” “And the film was so campy, everyone roared with laughter,” producer David Brown told Vanity Fair. “One patron was so irate he poured his Coke all over Fox president Dick Zanuck in the lobby. And we knew we had a hit. Why? Because of the size of the audience—the book would bring them in.”


Twentieth Century Fox

Richard Dreyfuss made his big-screen debut near the end of Valley of the Dolls, playing an assistant stage manager who knocks on Neely’s door to find her intoxicated. After appearing on several TV shows, this was his first role in a movie, but it was uncredited. That same year, he also had a small role in The Graduate. Dreyfuss told The A.V. Club he was in the best film of 1967 (The Graduate) and the worst (Valley of the Dolls). “But then one day I realized that I had never actually seen Valley of the Dolls all the way through, so I finally did it,” he said. “And I realized that I was in the last 45 seconds of the worst film ever made. And I watched from the beginning with a growing sense of horror. And then I finally heard my line. And I thought, ‘I’ll never work again.’ But I used to make money by betting people about being in the best and worst films of 1967: No one would ever come up with the answer, so I’d make 20 bucks!”


In the 2006 documentary Gotta Get Off This Merry Go Round: Sex, Dolls & Showtunes, Barbara Parkins scolded the director for keeping the film’s pill addiction on the surface. “The director never took us aside and said, look this is the effect,” she said. “We didn’t go into depth about it. Now, if you would’ve had a Martin Scorsese come in and direct this film, he would’ve sat you down, he would’ve put you through the whole emotional, physical, mental feeling of what that drug was doing to you. This would’ve been a whole different film. He took us to one, maybe two levels of what it’s like to take pills. The whole thing was to show the bottle and to show the jelly beans kinda going back. That was the important thing for him, not the emotional part.”


In 1995, Los Angeles theater troupe Theatre-A-Go-Go! adapted the movie into a stage play. Kate Flannery, who’d go on to play Meredith Palmer on The Office, portrayed Neely. “Best thing about Valley of the Dolls to make fun of it is to actually just do it,” Flannery said in the Dolls doc. “You don’t need to change anything.” Parkins came to a production and approved of it. Eventually, the play headed to New York in an Off-Broadway version, with Illeana Douglas playing the Jackie Susann reporter role.


By 20th Century-Fox - eBayfrontback, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The night the Manson Family murdered Tate, the actress had invited Susann to her home for a dinner party. According to Vanity Fair, Rex Reed came by The Beverly Hills Hotel, where Susann was staying, and they decided to stay in instead of going to Tate’s. The next day Susann heard about the murder, and cried by the pool. A few years later, when Susann was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, she joked her death would’ve been quicker if she had gone to Tate’s that night.


Of all of the characters in the movie, Duke’s Neely is the most over-the-top. “I used to be embarrassed by it," Duke said in a 2003 interview. "I used to say very unkind things about it, and through the years there are so many people who have come to me, or written me, or emailed who love it so, that I figured they all can’t be wrong." She eventually appreciated the camp factor. “I can have fun with that,” she said. “And sometimes when I’m on location, there will be a few people who bring it up, and then we order pizza and rent a VCR and have a Valley night, and it is fabulous.”


In 2000, Grant, Duke, and Parkins reunited on The View. “It’s the best, funniest, worst movie ever made,” Grant stated. She then mentioned how she and Duke made a movie about killer bees called The Swarm. “Valley of the Dolls was like genius compared to it,” Grant said.

6 Tips From Experts on How to Fake Loving a Gift You Hate

In this season of holiday giving, it's almost inevitable that you're going to get a gift you just don't like—and nobody wants to hurt another person's feelings when they went to the trouble of buying you a gift. So as you struggle to say thanks for that gaudy scarf from a beloved relative, or that stinky perfume from a well-meaning coworker, we bring you these tips from Jack Brown, a physician and body language expert from New York, and Alicia Sanders, a California-based acting coach with the conservatory program Starting Arts, for how to fake enjoyment—at least until you can exchange your gift at the store.


Your inner voice may be saying "No!" the moment you peel pack that paper, but there may be a hidden yes inside you somewhere that you can mine for.

Sanders explains that the key to successful acting "is finding the truth in your scene." She encourages her students to tap into a moment when they felt the emotion they are trying to convey, for authenticity. "So you get an ugly sweater with a hideous shape and a terrible image, but you think the color blue is not so bad. You can say, ‘This color blue is so beautiful,' because it's truthful," she explains. The more you can find a real truth to speak from, "the more convincing you can be."

By opening with a grain of truth, you don't set yourself off on a chain of lies. "When you have to start to lie, that's when it's going to show through that you're an inexperienced actor, because you'll be more transparent," Sanders says.


However, faking joy runs deeper than just the words you speak. Sanders reminds us to think of what our hands are doing. "If you sit there statically, it feels like you're working too hard," she says.

Your hands can be a telltale giveaway that you don't really like a gift, according to Brown. People experiencing unhappy emotions tend to ball their hands into fists, tuck them against their bodies, or put them in their pockets. "If a person likes what they are getting, their arms and hands are going to go further out from the body, and tend to be more loose and relaxed," he says.

Similarly, we can reveal falsehood by touching our face or head, which often signals lying, anxiety, or discomfort, Brown says. People in these emotional states "tend to touch their face with one hand, and slowly. They might scratch near their eye, right in front of their ear, or their forehead."

Sanders suggests you put a hand on your chest or bring the gift closer to your body as a way of showing that you can stand to have it near you.


Indeed, the gift-giver is most likely going to be looking at your face when they assess your reaction, so this is the canvas upon which you must work your most convincing efforts at false gratitude.

While you may think a bright smile is the perfect way to fake joy, Brown says smiling convincingly when you're feeling the opposite is not as easy. "Most people aren't good at it," he says.

A fake smile is obvious to the onlooker. These usually start at the corners of the mouth—often showing both top and bottom teeth, he points out. A sincere smile almost always just shows your top teeth, and begins more from the mid-mouth. Another giveaway of a fake smile is tension in the mid-face: "If you see someone with mouth tension, where the mouth opening gets smaller, the person's got some anxiety there."


Smile with your eyes first, Brown advises. "Completely forget about your mouth," Brown instructs. "If you smile with your mouth first, you're absolutely going to mess up."

And be sure to make eye contact, which Sanders says is "crucial to convince someone that you like their present."

But keep in mind that there are degrees of appropriate eye contact if you want to look natural. "If the eye contact is too little or too much, it'll feel like it's not sincere," Brown says. You want to be sure to avoid a stare—which can feel "predatory or romantic," he explains. Instead, make "a kind of little zig-zagging motion that people have when they look around a face."


As you unwrap your unwanted gift and have a moment of unpleasant surprise, you may be tempted to reach for the simplest phrase, such as "awesome," which Brown calls "a one-word cliché" that tries to convey a happiness you don't really feel. Brown says this is a no-no, too: "If you use a cliché, your body language will parallel that."

Instead, eliminate canned words and phrases from your repertoire, he urges, "because then you'll think more about what you're going to say."

Aunt Suzie will also notice if your voice is strained or you have to clear your throat before choking out a "thanks." But how do you convincingly soften your tone of voice so that your words sound as authentic as they can?

Back to acting. Sanders suggests mining your own personal happy experiences for honest emotional content; you may be seeing an ugly sweater you'll never wear but thinking of those prized theater tickets you received another year.

Brown, meanwhile, recommends you think of your favorite comedians; they're good at improvisation, and are often laughing or smiling. "When you do that, you're getting yourself in a better emotional state," Brown says. "Or you can think about a funny time in your own personal life."

A mental rehearsal before you get a gift is a good idea too. Brown says you can imagine a gift that this person could realistically have gotten you and draw on the joy of that imagined gift instead.


If you aren't completely overwhelmed yet, keep in mind you must try to get these small communications by your eyes, mouth, hands, language, and tone in alignment with one another. Brown calls this "paralanguage."

"If they're not congruent, if they don't all line up, then you're not going to come across as sincere," Brown says.

If all of this advice has you contorting yourself into a state of confusion, Brown says that if you remember nothing else, just smile with your eyes. You might just fake it until you make it.


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