I've been thinking about Golden Endings lately. Some media (mostly videogames) have multiple possible endings, dependent on the choices the player makes through it. Some have bad ends, where things don't go as hoped and the character or whatever they value breaks down. Others have multiple endings where nothing's perfect but some things are better than others. And some games have a nearly ideal ending, where everything the character cares about works out pretty darn well. Usually that's a harder ending to reach, whether they come about by completing 100% of various challenges, or are a matter of hitting certain prerequisites - do the right tasks, befriend the right characters, do things in a certain order, what have you. I'm still pretty fixated on Undertale, which is part of why it's on my mind. And I occasionally hear snippets of spoilers from Homestuck+ that let me know that canon's pretty focused on not allowing such a thing to exist, and outlining how one person's attempted happy ending is miserable in a lot of rippling ways for others. And part of what I'm thinking about is, I don't think I like golden endings. I like the idea of, of course you want the ending with the most happiness for the most people - or at least for the people you know and care about. But they also kind of suck. They're fundamentally based in the idea that, if you do everything right, everyone can end up happily... which means, if you do anything wrong, they won't end up happily. If I'm playing a game that I think I'll only play once, or if I've got some brainbug going on that feels convinced that each save file is a Real Universe Somehow where the pain of the fictional characters is real? I'm not going to directly play the game in the way that feels sincere to my interests or attention span or reasoning - I'm gonna pull up an FAQ or walkthrough or other guide, and chase directly to that best ending! And that's cheating myself in a way. I can't do that in any other part of my life. Sometimes it's comforting to know that at least some small pieces of the world can be optimized, but sometimes it just makes me sour and frustrated that I don't have a guide for life. And it's also... Like, in a game where I'm chasing the best ending, it's almost certainly a single player game. The programming is locked, my actions are the only ones that determine the ending. There's something profoundly shitty about the idea that I am the only one responsible for things turning out well, about letting my hobbies confirm that feeling. ...Kinda strange that I read so much time travel fic. But I've noticed lately my taste in time travel fic has been veering toward stories where the time traveler's knowledge is fragmented. Some are stories where the time traveler(s) think they have the knowledge and responsibility to Fix Things, but really all they have is a little bit of forewarning about some details. Some are stories where they're distracted by their own flaws, and missing opportunities that lock them out of any golden ending. Some are stories where they know they only know a little bit, and they're too hesitant to act - whether to try to preserve the advantage of their knowledge, or because they don't know what to do or who to trust. I think it's just because, like... The thing about time travel is, you don't know anybody else's internal reality. Going back in time to say a thing or do something differently, you can't know for sure how things would unfold from there. Can't know for sure what lessons anybody learned from their experiences. Differences of reading a story that clicked the right way and framed someone's perspective going forward would change, even if just slightly, the things that they pay attention to, and how they think about it, and from there they'd drift ever so slightly - or maybe significantly - as they perceive different options and take them. I mean, hell, imagine going back to warn Howard Dean against getting all hyped up at that rally. We hadn't yet gotten accustomed to how a recording could go viral, picked apart and mocked and have that overshadow a person. Without that moment shifting peoples' opinions, how do things change? Would something else catch peoples' attention in a similar way, or...? But yeah. Thinking about times when I'm ever so careful about my words, not risking saying anything that I'd want to take back. Thinking about times when friends get stressed to all hell, because they feel like they're the only ones in their households keeping things together. Like it's our job to say just the right things to keep everyone happy, like we're the only people and everyone else is a set of programming that'll turn on us if we don't take responsibility for their actions. There's something exhausting in that. My therapist told me to write a short choose-your-own-adventure story for homework. A child's story of getting in an argument, and a couple paths for ways the kid might further escalate the argument, or try to de-escalate it. And it's connected, because of course the ways that we talk with each other will influence how others want to respond. But there's also the ways in which, staying in the situation and continuing to try to guide it to be the Best Ending For Everyone just isn't a kid's job. Or shouldn't be.