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 ...