The Big Finish
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
As a general rule, I finish what I start. However, when someone says they do something as a general rule as opposed to flat out saying here is a thing I always do, they are doing so because somewhere in the corner of their mind they are thinking of a specific instance or two where they in fact do the opposite of their “general rule.” Saying you do something as a general rule is a lot like starting a sentence with, “I’m not a racist, but... .”
So, when I say that I finish what I start as a general rule, I am thinking very specifically of the fact that this rule rarely applies to video games. No, there my rule is quite the opposite. On my best years, we’re probably talking about a five to ten percent completion percentage. And I’m not even talking about getting those 100% completion goals that many games now come with, which is an accomplishment I don’t think I’ve ever reached on a game. I’m just talking about things like finishing a single player campaign, or reaching max level in an MMO, or winning all the non-DLC levels. Those basic thresholds for accomplishment are usually all that I ever put in my sights, and even that is rarely a mark I manage to hit.
The thing is, I don’t immediately have any regrets about this. I know a lot of people look at their pile of games waiting to be finished (whatever that word actually means in video games these days) and feel something like shame. I imagine there are even people out there who won’t buy a new game until they have finished the one they are playing, which is the kind of stubborn stick-to-itiveness that I might think should be classified in the DSM.
Sometimes I wonder, though. Am I missing out?
I start most games I play, regardless of whether they are a casual distraction on my phone or a major release, assuming I’ll get, at most, a good three or four hours out of the effort before I wander off in one direction or another, never to return. To stop at the end of those handful of hours is to say nothing of the quality of the game. No, it says far more about the way I like to experience games. I am addicted to variety, to sampling as many flavors as possible and soaking them into a picture that is the greater landscape of modern games.
Even in a game like World of Warcraft or Diablo, into which I’ve poured far more hours than I have any desire to count, I am as likely to start a new character to experience the different styles and mechanics a favorite game delivers as I am to persist in whatever my “main” character had last been up to. And, should I shuffle up to some barrier in my progress, I am as likely to hit the quit button and fire up something a little more accommodating as I am to give the challenge a second or third try.
The most popular lie to excuse this kind of — I freely admit, reprehensible — behavior, is to say my time is too precious to waste it on uninspiring challenges. This is, of course, a bald-faced lie. My time is not actually so haughtily precious as all that, because if it were then I probably wouldn’t have found a way to lose 100+ hours to Orcs Must Die 2 in 2012, or as many to Diablo 3, or 40 hours to Mass Effect 3, or however many hours I played World of Warcraft. I have clearly made a decision to make time for game playing in my life, and to try and characterize my playtime as some tiny sliver of a morsel that I rip from the grudging hands of Father Time is not only hopelessly inaccurate but is also in direct contradiction to any and all of evidence. No, I have the time to stick with games. I choose not to.
The other great lie is that I expect games to be densely packed with rewarding experiences such that any lag, any unseemly gaps in sensorial assault are to be seen as a flaw of a game no longer to be pursued. Again, this is entirely dismissible given the evidence at hand, specifically that I would play virtually any MMO for more than 15 minutes. Furthermore, if I’m honest with myself, I’ve quit games at moments of great density. Sometimes intentionally, other times almost as if by accident, just never putting the disc in the tray or clicking the executable on the desktop again.
My preferences are fickle, my predilections contradictory, my excuses thin as cheesecloth, and at this point I am unapologetic about it all. I wonder to some degree if there is a part of me that doesn’t even want to finish these games. After all, having not finished these games means I always have something to go back to, some unfinished piece of business I pack away like canned goods in a bomb shelter, should I someday be in desperate need of gaming sustenance.
And yet, there is this feeling of accomplishment I have upon finishing a game or reaching some meaningful summit, a feeling that I rarely get to enjoy. So often in my style of gaming, I am left with no conclusions, no closure, for lack of a better term. There is a peace, odd a word as that may seem, to coming to the end a story delivered and knowing that you have triumphed at least enough to enjoy whatever taste of victory the game is willing to dole out.
When I reach the end of a game, I am rarely left thinking about the obstacles or challenges that might have seemed impenetrable earlier, and even if I do, it is not usually with dissatisfaction or animosity. It is more likely that what I experience reaching something like the end credits is a lot like what I experience from finishing anything to which I ascribe enough worth to be committed. I’m not saying that finishing the Mass Effect series was just like seeing my little boy graduate from preschool, but the sense of accomplishment and even pride is similar if in different magnitudes. There is, after all, some part of me that takes perverse pride in the fact that I've finished Deus Ex on at least 3 separate occasions.
Last week, I decided to go back and finish at least one of the numerous games last year that deserved more attention than I paid. Plugging away another fifteen hours into Torchlight 2, a game I had abandoned midway through earlier this year because something shiny had come along, led me through the primary campaign and frankly resulted in me holding the game in much higher esteem than I had originally. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the game before, but I think there is something to having left a game unfinished that somehow tarnishes its memory. Upon having felled the final boss, that sense of completeness is admittedly undeniable.
It does force me to ask myself the question of whether I would like my games more or less (or maybe even the same) if I “finished” a greater percentage of them. It’s not that I’m worried about my endearment or esteem for gaming right now, but there is a hint of indifference and cavalierness about the way I play them now. I look at them as transitory experiences that can only transcend if the game does all the work. Ask much from me, and I’m quick to say “there are a lot of games in the sea, babe, and all of them want my lovin.” Then I pop my collar and shrug in a really annoying way.
I think I would like to finish more games, but I also think that’s just something I think today. And, as sad as it may be, the very act of committing to the idea of committing to more games is something I’m tepid on at best. Sorry, games. I like to play the field. That’s just who I am.