C'mon Baby, Finish What You Started

In the beginning there was the void. In the beginning there was darkness. In the beginning there was the fog. In the beginning there was backstory, loading screen and level 1. There was also depending on which universe we are talking about an underpowered .38, a cutscene, a settler, a tutorial and mild tempered enemies with all the lethality of a fresh Danish.

In the beginning there was joy.

When I was a kid, my parents worried that my habit of never finishing what I started would persist through adolescence and straight on into adulthood. Well, nice job Mom and Dad of not sticking to your guns and raising me properly. What the hell, guys? I’d finish this paragraph with some really fancy parental indictments and dredged up childhood memories, except that I’m getting bored and am ready to move on.

I’ve played six different games of Civilization V so far totaling more than 15 hours. I have yet to get a civilization out of the Renaissance. I feel the tide of the game rolling into it’s firmly entrenched mid-game, and my mind turns to happier days of wandering through the fog to find the fertile ground on which I will plant my next urban seed.

The truth is that I love the beginning of games, often so much so that after they are over I lose interest.

I’ve always felt a little guilty about the fact that I finish very few of the games I play. On the off-chance that people are reading this who are impacted by my casual embrace of personal fiduciary duty, my grip on this concept so light and uncertain that it wouldn’t even measure to the level of man-hug, I will not go into the economics of being a habitual game starter. Even with my potential but as yet unproven monetary irresponsibility off the table, I recognize that there is something unseemly, even ungamerly about not finishing games. I am so softcore that if I were pornography, I’d be an AXE body wash ad.

The thing is, I am never happier than when I am starting a game. And, we aren’t just talking about games I’ve never played before. My favorite part of revisiting a loved game is to go back and play just the first few levels, maps or challenges. For example, I get a bizarre thrill to revisit newbie zones in MMOs. Just the idea of dropping into EverQuest to kill rats outside the gates of Qeynos fills me not with dread and self-loathing, but a coppery taste of perverse desire thick at the back of my throat, like when I watch infomercials about 70s soft-rock compilations.

I am just one of those people. I love starting things, feeling the great stretch of potential in front of me. I have begun to learn to play a half dozen musical instruments just up to the point where I am adequately prepared to create the worst one-man children’s zydeco band on the planet. I have written the all important first line of countless short stories, leaving equally numerous erstwhile and largely one-dimensional characters to fend for themselves in their thinly realized worlds. It’s just who I am.

I think the even bigger problem for me as a habitual game starter is the expense and attention that game makers so often pay to their opening act. Everyone wants a hook, and everyone wants to get me, the game player, on that hook as quickly as possible. Beginnings need to be big, capturing the attention so that when you are slogging through the busy work that is far too many second acts, you can’t help but let inertia carry you. Unfortunately the physics of my psyche are not Newtonian.

There is always this moment in just about every game where I sense the shift, where I realize that I have left the beginning behind, where the motor is humming -- or in some cases merely sputtering -- along and what had been the great landscape of possibility has become a long, too often straight road where I mark time with the passing of billboard, minivans and murderously leering truckers. It’s not exactly that I automatically stop having fun, it’s just that I start having slightly less fun and somehow manage to find a reason not to pick back up where I left off the night before.

A day becomes two. Two days becomes a week. Then, when I finally block out some time to jump back into the middle of whatever game I had been playing, the thought of getting caught back up to where I had left off just seems not worth the time. Besides, there’s always a new beginning waiting, whether it’s a brand new game or just going back to replay the start of some loved diversion. The cycle is fulfilled.

I know this runs counter to the way many people consume their games, and perhaps seems alien at best and irresponsible at worst. I could say at this point that I’ll recommit to finishing what I started, but it would be a lie whispered in the ear of a sleeping lover at the end of a one-night stand. I respect you more than that, baby -- enough to tell you the truth. I am going to go right on being a habitual game starter.

I realize that’s a disappointing resolution. Fortunately, from this mire of hyper-self-awareness I believe I have some insight equal to what is deserved by this august audience, and so I would like to finish what I started by saying this ...

Comments

I certainly know this feeling. My steam library is filled with games I've played only half-heartedly and were then forgotten (steam sales, ugh).

It's certainly important to recognize this as a leisure hobby, and be mindful of the fact that if you're not having fun it's no longer worth the effort. At the same time, however, I've found that, as with anything else I could be doing, there come times when a certain amount of self-discipline is involved in really enjoying what I'm playing. Especially when, after a week, I seem to have lost the groove of a game, it will often take me awhile to return to the mindset I was in that would allow me to again feel free to move through the game world. This is necessary sometimes; I think the trick is recognizing when a game deserves this kind of attention.

Oh, and I haven't made it past renaissance either.

Quoting Joseph Conrad:

I don't like work--no man does, but I like what is in the work, the chance to find yourself.

And now to try to tie that with the article:

Is it possible that you don't want to know how the game ends? That you don't want to materialize what the game is, instead preferring to keep the notion you dreamed? You said before you love the hype, sometimes more than the game itself. Is it possible that to you, the possibility is more enticing than the confirmation?

Or is it just fear of disappointment?

"I am so softcore that if I were pornography, I’d be an AXE body wash ad."

Really enjoyed the article, good on ya!

I am partly in Club Elysium.

Actually, that sounds like an Ibiza beachfront hangout, so maybe I'll rephrase...

Up until recently, I was the same. The thrill of the new was always more alluring than the blunt satisfaction of seeing the credits roll. In fact, let's be honest. I rarely watch the credits. I'm spamming buttons to try and skip them so I can see what new shiny things have been unlocked as a reward for beating the game. See? Thrill of the new, right?

The thing that's changed this year is that I find myself in a position where I can't afford to keep new nuggets of purest gameonium coming in a steady flow, so I've turn to my well-stocked game shelf, and have been doing what my high-school teachers would have termed 'applying myself'.

I think I've finished more games this year than ever. Perhaps more importantly, I've gotten better at those games than I normally would. Ordinarily, dying on the same section more than twice would result in the game being ejected, sitting forlornly on the my shelf for a few months, then getting traded for something else while I play whatever new purchase has superceded it.

But I've been a Veteran in Modern Warfare 2, have been enjoying slogging through Bayonetta on Hard, and will shortly be witnessing the Legendary fall of Reach. I'm finding a great deal of satisfaction in getting good at the games that I'm playing, rather than just grinding through them on a default difficulty.

Yay for being poor!

I giggled at the end of the article. Thank you.

I'm very much the same. Game completion is alien to me and I've only seen the credits on maybe a quarter of the games I've started, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's a lot less. The monthly Pile of Shame threads do help, most of the time, but I've come to terms with the fact that when a game starts to feel like work there's no shame in walking away.

And I have found that momentum is important. If I find myself going, 'Not tonight,' twice in a row I know I'm not going back.

And damn you to hell for the ending of the article. Even before I got halfway I planned on ending this comment in a similar way.

And that's why I play Demos. I've found that the demo is often enough game for me and I'm quite happy with the experience.

Hemidal's pile threads have done wonders for my game completion - I oddly feel compelled to finish games and move on, as though I would disappoint people if I didn't hit my pile commitment.

Jonman wrote:

I am partly in Club Elysium.

Jonman, in your defense, there is only so far you can get with a game when playing on the can.

Fyedaddy wrote:
Jonman wrote:

I am partly in Club Elysium.

Jonman, in your defense, there is only so far you can get with a game when playing on the can.

Methinks you seriously underestimate both the frequency and longevity of my poos.

I've only finished one game of Civ 5 (my first) and have started at least six or seven more, which pretty much fits the pattern for any 4x game I play. The exploration and land-grabbing have always been the most fun part for me.

For games of any genre, once they're no longer fun--either because they become boring or because I lack the necessary skill--I stop. I know lots of people seem to be pathologically compelled to finish games they don't enjoy, but it's something I've never understood.

I have started and never finished more games than I can count. I get far more pleasure out of learning about the nature of a complex system than applying that knowledge in a repeated manner for x hours. I have started more games multiple times than I have finished, each time knowing I'd barely make it halfway before getting tired of the system. There are some exceptions - I will finish just about any game that gets that magical pacing right, doling out new mechanics at a rate that neither gets tedious nor frivolous. The Legend of Zelda series and the Half Life series come to mind as game series that hit that mark for me (though Half-Life 2 did nearly lose me at the midpoint due to some overlong sequences).

Oddly I have finished more games of late thanks to the power of portable gaming. The fact that I can game and get it on with my hot wife at the same time has made a huge difference in the amount of games I have completed.

Jonman wrote:
Fyedaddy wrote:
Jonman wrote:

I am partly in Club Elysium.

Jonman, in your defense, there is only so far you can get with a game when playing on the can.

Methinks you seriously underestimate both the frequency and longevity of my poos.

My great-uncle could probably finish a jRPG or two that way.

What it comes down to for me is that, the longer I play a game, the more likely I am to either get distracted by the new shiny or else just need a break, and the longer a break I take, the more likely I am to forget important gameplay mechanics or what's going on in the story, meaning the more likely I am to enjoy the game significantly less when I come back to it.

Last two games I didn't finish were Dead Space (controls too janky for my tastes) and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (got too scared). My days of finishing games no matter the pain seemed to pass after my income had got past a certain point...

I can count the number of end credits I've seen on one hand. In reverse order, they were:

Red Dead Redemption
Mass Effect
Halo
Warcraft
Doom
Wing Commander

Okay, it's a six-fingered hand, but still. The number of unfinished games on my shelf? That'd take WAY more six-fingered hands.

momgamer wrote:
Jonman wrote:
Fyedaddy wrote:
Jonman wrote:

I am partly in Club Elysium.

Jonman, in your defense, there is only so far you can get with a game when playing on the can.

Methinks you seriously underestimate both the frequency and longevity of my poos.

My great-uncle could probably finish a jRPG or two that way. ;)

There's at least a couple of GBA games that I've only ever played on the can.

Sensical wrote:

I can count the number of end credits I've seen on one hand. In reverse order, they were:

Red Dead Redemption
Mass Effect
Halo
Warcraft
Doom
Wing Commander

Okay, it's a six-fingered hand, but still.

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die!!!

Elysium wrote:

Unfortunately the physics of my psyche are not Newtonian.

That may be one of my favorite statements ever. It does beg the question as to whether your psyche is in fact quantum.

Jonman wrote:

I am partly in Club Elysium.

Up until recently, I was the same. The thrill of the new was always more alluring than the blunt satisfaction of seeing the credits roll. In fact, let's be honest. I rarely watch the credits. I'm spamming buttons to try and skip them so I can see what new shiny things have been unlocked as a reward for beating the game. See? Thrill of the new, right?

Post-credit cinemas have become so common that I've always been too afraid to push buttons and skip them for fear of missing some last little fascinating nugget of game story (or more frequently disappointing walnut of game story.)

I'm curious for those who don't frequently finish games do you find yourselves gravitating towards games without overt endings (WOW, multiplayer games like Starcraft II, etc...)?

With all due respect, seriously... This sounds like an adult living his/her life with an undiagnosed case of ADD/ADHD. Not finishing what one starts is only one classic symptom you described in your very well written article.

Anyway, I speak from experience, and even though the undiagnosed part no longer applies for myself, the struggle continues on a daily basis as far as dealing with its effects.

I'm like a Bizzarro-world Elysium. Once I get a game, I have to - HAVE TO - finish it. I am a sad, sad, completionist who can count the games he has walked away from on one hand. I don't include open-ended games like the Sims, of course, but if there's a game with a bona fide ending, I have to get to it. The DLC is also mandatory (Hi, Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age).

Even MMOs, there's this urge to hit the level cap. I consider that an ending of sorts, because if I let it, WoW and LoTRO would become careers.

Still, I don't judge if you decide to play and run away. It's your game, who the hell cares if you finish it or not? I just don't have time for that kind of peer pressure any more.

For many of us, I think the problem is we have access to so many games for little to no money (hi, Steam sale), that it's so easy to create a nice, respectable pile and get sidetracked.

I think part of it is when a game feels like it is suddenly giving you busy work. When I played Doom 3 I thought I was finally towards the end when I entered Hell, only to exit again and be back on Mars. Suddenly I felt like the game was just adding length for the sake of being longer and had an urge to go punt my friends that complain about games being too short in the nuts. Why am I still going? What am I doing that I haven't done for the past several hours?

A perfect example of this for me is actually Zelda games. A Link to the Past is the easiest one for me to stick with because 1) Zelda runs better in 2D (or so I claim) and 2) without a 3D world travel is faster and snappier. But it still has that point where suddenly it seems like a sort of slog. You start the game and there's all these conversations and things happening! People giving you items, your Uncle dying, and having to collect three pendants to get the Master Sword! Then you climb the tower and BAM! Dark World!

But then it sort of goes silent, and it seems like the game just waits quietly while you finish those six levels before delivering more story. The 3-D world being so huge and taking longer to explore exacerbates this into a problem for Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. In A Link to the Past the promise of exploration and discovery is enough for me. In the later games, however, I reach a point where I just put the controller aside with only a couple dungeons left and shrug. "Eh, I'm done" I say quietly.

I think a lot of games have that slog, where at the beginning there's so much happening, but then in the middle the writers couldn't think of any good ideas so basically just sat and waited in the corner until the end of the game was near.

At the same time, beginning a new game always brought back nostalgia of experiencing something new. But generally, yeah, I think the problem with wanting more gameplay is the fact that you're either going to have repetitive levels, or just long moments where nothing happens.

I never finished Morrowind or Baldur's Gate or Baldur's Gate II or GTA Vice City or GTA San Andreas or Red Dead Redemption or Fallout 3 or Fallout 2 or Bully or Saints Row or Saints Row 2 or Dragon Age: Origins or Fable II or The Force Unleashed or Prototype or Dead Space or . . .

I remember being surprised when I finished KOTOR, because I never finish games. As a rule, most games turn into a bit of a grind near the end, and it's just not worth it. Developers run out of ideas and wind up padding, and I have the attention span of a gnat with a coke habit when I get bored.

I play games, including Civ exactly the same way, Elysium. Heck, for as much of sports gamer as I am, I rarely finish a full season of any particular sport. But I will sink a ton of time in the set-up.

And with shooters and the like, I will replay early levels a ton as I figure out what makes each game tick. But it is the rare game I see the end of.

But I think you nailed it. Developers do really try to nail the early gameplay. By moving on,instead of gutting it out, I think we get more A+ gameplay per hour of playtime than completionists. I just don't get a buzz from knowing finished a game.

I have been amused to watch my wife play more games, because she is the opposite. She spends far less time gaming, but she will wipe me out with her gamerscore soon. But she does get that rush as her completion % goes up. I see it all the time.

But I quit worrying about how should enjoy games a long time ago. I just play them for as long as it is fun. Which is the point, right?

With all due respect, seriously... This sounds like an adult living his/her life with an undiagnosed case of ADD/ADHD. Not finishing what one starts is only one classic symptom you described in your very well written article.

I can confidently say that ADD/ADHD is not in my system. While I am describing my hobbies in one way, much of my professional life is completely governed by my ability to concentrate and stick to tasks to completion. In fact, there may be some element of this phenomenon in the fact that I like my recreation to be at least one part of my life that is highly unstructured.

I appreciate the suggestion, though.

Elysium wrote:

I am so softcore that if I were pornography, I’d be an AXE body wash ad.

Sig'd

I rarely finish games that have an ending, especially in recent years. The ones that I can think of at the moment that I have finished are Red Dead Redemption, Borderlands, Mass Effect 1 and 2, Brutal Legend, Warcraft 3 (single player campaign), and Diablo 2 + LoD.

During the PSOne era, when I managed to get my first jobs, I would buy a good number of games, start them all, play for about an hour or so, and then stick to one. Sometimes I would completed them all. Other times, they would never get the time from me. I did that with the PS2 and Xbox but have since outgrown this for the most part. The Gamecube has so few games in average that whenever I did get a game for it, it got played to completion.

MilkmanDanimal wrote:

I never finished Morrowind or Baldur's Gate or Baldur's Gate II or GTA Vice City or GTA San Andreas or Red Dead Redemption or Fallout 3 or Fallout 2 or Bully or Saints Row or Saints Row 2 or Dragon Age: Origins or Fable II or The Force Unleashed or Prototype or Dead Space or . . .

I remember being surprised when I finished KOTOR, because I never finish games. As a rule, most games turn into a bit of a grind near the end, and it's just not worth it. Developers run out of ideas and wind up padding, and I have the attention span of a gnat with a coke habit when I get bored.

Heh, I was like that with Dragon Age. When the credits rolled I was so surprised at myself I sat there shocked and nearly reached the 30 Seconds to Mars song before exiting.

I've gotten better at finishing long games. I loved Baldur's Gate but would always get bogged down, but I've managed both Mass Effects (The first one twice!) and Dragon Age.

Still can't get through Dead Space though, and I really like it.

I am in the opposite camp. To me a pile of games on the board poses so much pressure on me, that I can barely take it. Last(?) year around this time, I bought BioShock for the PS3, started playing and loved it. Then while I was still playing it, Dead Space came out, and I HAD to play it. So I put BS on hold, supposedly until Dead Space was "done".

I don't remember which game came along, but I think it might have been Uncharted 2. Anyway, some game managed to slip "in between" directly after I finished Dead Space. And from that point on, that BioShock cover really nagged on me, for a rather long time. I eventually finished BioShock in Februar (that's approx 6 months after buying it) - boy, it felt good. The interesting part is, that I did so, even though I somewhat (obviously?) had lost interest in BioShock. Nevertheless I chose to finish it - just for the sake of ..., well,.. finishing. Sounds strange doesn't it?

I watched this process happen several times to me, and I sometimes tend to take a step back and wonder: Why am I so pressed to finishing this, now? Why can't I just leave it, and play something else/new? And that short moments of clarity, I realize the recreational aspect of videogaming the most. So in that moment I think to myself "yeah, you are right. Nobody forces you to do this. Just do something else.". Normally I will do something else then, but the nagging feeling will return eventually. It's like groundhog day for me in a way.

I think, this is somehow in my nature. It is the same with me for books. I am not 100% sure, but I think in my whole life (I'm 32 now), I have had only one book that I started but did not finish. It's always this "I have started it, now I need/must(!) finish it".

I am not really sure where this urge is coming from. Maybe it is a subconscious feeling of having wasted a lot of time for starting something, when I don't finish it. Maybe it's the fact, that I spent money on the particular item (game/book) - I don't know.

But anyway - very interesting read Elysium. Your "pure bliss" would probably be very hard for me to cope with at all.

Can I throw an idea about? Some games aren't that good, and some games (even the good ones) you're not going to get on with. I can understand having a pile of games you've paid money for but not extracted all the fun from is a bit frustrating, but sometimes I just cut my losses and decide I wasn't having fun playing a particular game.