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.

Comments

I wish I'd finish more, but I find I play games to around 80% completion, then stop.

I suspect this is because I've been horribly disappointed by endings too many times (Damn you to hell, Mass Effect, I loved you so!) I love the story in games, even lighter action games, and they get wrapped up so badly so often.

Or, perhaps.. Maybe it's after that point where you gain all the new abilities you're going to, where you've met all the enemy types there are, where you know there won't be anything new, just following the road to the end from there on out.

I'm not at all motivated by accomplishments. I've tried a few times to be an accomplishment completionist, and that sort of thing can't hold my attention for more than a day.

The thing is? I *want* to finish more games. I loved XCOM, played right up to the end, and stopped. The Witcher 2? Same thing. Had a blast, loved the game. Stopped part way through the third act.

And worse, if I've left a game for a while, I can't pick up where I was, I need to start again. But starting again means a long swaft of replaying, and inevitably I stop again, often earlier than I did the first time. As this cycle repeats, the early game gets endlessly more tiresome to me, making replaying it less appealing all the time.

I wish I would finish games the first time around.

Yeah, I've found too many games have unsatisfying endings. I think I can count on both hands the number of games I've completed in the last 15 years. I can only think of two where I achieved almost all there was to achieve, and those are FF7 and Burnout: Revenge. Otherwise, I also get bored. Two notable exceptions have been Demon's souls and Dark souls, both have a lot of draw for me, and I will keep going back to them over and over again.

When I was writing out my list of 2012 games for the podcast I put a star beside every one I managed to finish. I've always found this rare difference between us fascinating because while we're both serial gamers, I seem to have an internal clock that stops me from dumping extreme (100+) hours into anything. The idea of putting that much time into Orcs Must Die 2 is totally foreign to me. I feel like I got everything that game had to show me within about 4 hours and the rest would be variations on the theme.

Maybe I've got a deeper attachment to story than you. Could be you're more mechanically inclined, meaning you're jumping from game to game looking for one that feels right, then you devour it and pick it over like starving coyote. It would definitely explain our divergence on MMOs and loot drop games. I get itchy when I get the sense that a game doesn't want me to ever stop playing.

Here's my list of notable games that I finished. I'll admit that when I look at it I definitely feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.

1000000
Assassin's Creed III
Borderlands 2
Diablo III
Dishonored
Dragon's Dogma
Far Cry 3
Halo 4
Hitman: Absolution
Hotline Miami
Journey
Mark of the Ninja
Mass Effect 3
Max Payne 3
Sleeping Dogs
Spec Ops: The Line
The Walking Dead
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Normal Ironman Mode)

OTOH, the true ending of Persona 4 Golden is absolutely worth playing to...

I just finished it this week. Much better than the disappointment that was Persona 3 Portable's ending. I couldn't wait to get back to playing through it again. I'm already back to 4/16 on the second playthrough. Going to max out the last 5 social links and try for the tough trophies this time. (100% compendium, 250 Rise lines, etc)

I played through on Easy last time. It was a challenge for the first 2 dungeons, then it became exceedingly simple after that. Hard mode this time seems like it's going to be a much bigger challenge.

I've finished 43 games this year mainly because I started focusing more and ended up with more motivation from backloggery.com. I now have a count of the finished games and how many are left to go... If I continued the pace of 43 per year, it'd take me 4.5 years to finish just what I have now...

Elysium wrote:
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...

Did you intend for this piece to be posted after Dec 31st?

Certis wrote:
Here's my list of notable games that I finished. I'll admit that when I look at it I definitely feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.

...

Far Cry 3


As much as I like FC3, I know that I will likely never play through all of the story missions, which I assume is what you used to qualify as finishing the game. Because I dislike the story missions so much (other than Vaas), I'm only interested in taking over every outpost and radio tower. At that point, I will consider Far Cry 3 finished.

I tried to go back to Recettear yesterday. I was quickly reminded that the game hates me and wants to ruin my fun forever, as so many do.

Anyone else read that as Finnish? I was half expecting large Finnish people.

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.
...
Sorry, games. I like to play the field. That’s just who I am.

Don't hate the player, hate the game..?

According to my count, I've played 19 games this year, only one of which can't be considered to have an end state because it's multiplayer only (DayZ). Of the remaining 18, I've beaten 15. Endless Space and AI War I stopped playing before playing a winning campaign. And of course, Secret to the Magic Crystals was too painfully grindy for me to get all 5 level 5 ponycorns.

I have mixed feelings on this. I'd tried to be more of a completionist in the past, but I'm gradually embracing my short attention span and not forcing it. To be honest, many games have a clever schtick which makes a couple of hours really fun, but can't be stretched out to 10 or 15 hours effectively.

As much as I liked Dishonored, feel like it was something I could never "complete" as going pure stealth would make it more grind than fun, and I'm still looking for fun.

It's been an interesting (personal) exercise to take a game, sample it very briefly and then intentionally put it down if it doesn't grab me. With practice, I'll learn to play the field a bit more (I hope).

I used to be terrible at finishing games, for no real reason except getting distracted or hitting a minor roadblock. I work harder at completing them now, and like Certis I find the completion very satisfying.

Wintersdark wrote:
And worse, if I've left a game for a while, I can't pick up where I was, I need to start again. But starting again means a long swaft of replaying, and inevitably I stop again, often earlier than I did the first time. As this cycle repeats, the early game gets endlessly more tiresome to me, making replaying it less appealing all the time.

As soon as I stopped doing this I started completing more games. The tipping point was Dead Space, I started and dropped it probably 3 times at least. Then one day after wandering off I picked up at an old save and ran through it, to my great joy.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
I used to be terrible at finishing games, for no real reason except getting distracted or hitting a minor roadblock. I work harder at completing them now, and like Certis I find the completion very satisfying.

Wintersdark wrote:
And worse, if I've left a game for a while, I can't pick up where I was, I need to start again. But starting again means a long swaft of replaying, and inevitably I stop again, often earlier than I did the first time. As this cycle repeats, the early game gets endlessly more tiresome to me, making replaying it less appealing all the time.

As soon as I stopped doing this I started completing more games. The tipping point was Dead Space, I started and dropped it probably 3 times at least. Then one day after wandering off I picked up at an old save and ran through it, to my great joy.

For me, if it has been too long since I've last played it, I find that I am not as comfortable with the controls or game mechanics to survive. Also, if I can't remember why I should care about the characters or the plot, it makes it that much more difficult to pick up an old save.

Elysium wrote:
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.

Read that and then looked for this on Certis' list.
Certis wrote:

Journey

In that case it's true. 1-2 hours of no wasted time. An amazing experience that I just got to play last night. And played again just to try to understand more of it.

Definitely the PS3 GotY, and a strong contender for overall GotY.

The main factor in continuing to play any game is the feeling of reward. I continue to play League of Legends because every match has the possibility of making me feel awesome multiple times throughout. I finished Mass Effect 3 because some of the epic story moments pushed me through the formulaic game play. Every time I survive a sector in FTL I feel rewarded. Same with X-COM and every skirmish.

Most important, is that I have to feel that I earned every reward I received.

Being a sucker for narrative, I usually find it hard *not* to see a game through to the end (unless it's, you know, a sh*tty game). Also, as an RPG fan, I think I'm used to much longer play times and have no problem putting up with 10-15-hour games.

I thought back about the games I really enjoyed and I think there are really a lot of cases where it would be a huge shame to miss the ending. FF-IX and X, BioShock (well, the first ending), Deus Ex, Spec Ops: The Line, Portal, Braid, Bastion... The real problem is that, unless you read reviews and spoil the game for yourself, you can't really know in advance if it'll be one of the really good endings, or one of the awful ones. But I think it's worth it, because the good ones are amazing and give a great sense of closure and accomplishment.

I love finishing games, but I rarely do. I am always looking for the game that draws me in and is compelling enough to propel me to the end. Unfortunately that only happens once in a while, but the last few years have been good to me:

Gears of War
Call of Duty 2
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Assassin's Creed
Prince of Persia
Left 4 Dead
Fallout 3
Skyrim
Batman Arkham City
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
Mass Effect 2
Jade Empire
Dark Souls (in progress)

There might be one or two I am missing, but games that pull me toward the end are rare. Before the current era, however, I think the only game I finished was Super Mario Bros. I think games are just getting much better.

MeatMan wrote:

As much as I like FC3, I know that I will likely never play through all of the story missions, which I assume is what you used to qualify as finishing the game. Because I dislike the story missions so much (other than Vaas), I'm only interested in taking over every outpost and radio tower. At that point, I will consider Far Cry 3 finished.

THANK GOD. I thought I was the only one that didn't like the story missions. I got through the whole first island, and had to push through the whole knife-rescue-friends-thing. I love the stealth of the outposts; I like the radio towers and exploring new territories. I did not like the story missions after Vaas. I'm not done yet, but I think I'm in the last third, and want to finish the game because the first half was so fantastic.

TheGrey wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:
I used to be terrible at finishing games, for no real reason except getting distracted or hitting a minor roadblock. I work harder at completing them now, and like Certis I find the completion very satisfying.

Wintersdark wrote:
And worse, if I've left a game for a while, I can't pick up where I was, I need to start again. But starting again means a long swaft of replaying, and inevitably I stop again, often earlier than I did the first time. As this cycle repeats, the early game gets endlessly more tiresome to me, making replaying it less appealing all the time.

As soon as I stopped doing this I started completing more games. The tipping point was Dead Space, I started and dropped it probably 3 times at least. Then one day after wandering off I picked up at an old save and ran through it, to my great joy.

For me, if it has been too long since I've last played it, I find that I am not as comfortable with the controls or game mechanics to survive. Also, if I can't remember why I should care about the characters or the plot, it makes it that much more difficult to pick up an old save.

I used to be exactly the same until I made 2 realisations. 1) Videogame controls are not so complicated that a few minutes don't restore most familiarity and 2) Videogames stories are pretty simple and come back to mind even quicker than the controls.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
I used to be exactly the same until I made 2 realisations. 1) Videogame controls are not so complicated that a few minutes don't restore most familiarity and 2) Videogames stories are pretty simple and come back to mind even quicker than the controls.

I agree; simply bear with the game for a few minutes, take a few risks even (if you lose, just load that same save up again) and you'll be back on the saddle. Much better than replaying the whole start.

I had a big, long comment written up, and decided not to post it, because it felt sort of stupid. I wasn't sure why at the time, but abandoned it.

12 hours later, I think I may have pinned it down... it seems to me that worrying about how you game might just be another game, a metagame. But it's a game in the sense of Calvinball, where you make up all the rules, and they don't really matter to anyone else.

In the end... do whatever works for you. If you feel you're getting your time and money's worth out of it, then who cares what anyone but your family thinks from there? (and maybe not even them!)

If there was just one correct approach to gaming, be it super-serious linear play, or chaotic random hopping in and out, then there would be just one game, and we'd all play it.

Oh, and Sally.Caboose, there's lots of us in the Far Cry 3 thread that were unimpressed with the story, but loved the engine and the unscripted missions. If you want to join us there, I think you'd find yourself amongst upstanding, right-thinking citizens, from your perspective.

Malor wrote:
Oh, and Sally.Caboose, there's lots of us in the Far Cry 3 thread that were unimpressed with the story, but loved the engine and the unscripted missions. If you want to join us there, I think you'd find yourself amongst upstanding, right-thinking citizens, from your perspective.

I imagine I'd be in that troop, were I to buy FC3.

Malor wrote:
Oh, and Sally.Caboose, there's lots of us in the Far Cry 3 thread that were unimpressed with the story, but loved the engine and the unscripted missions. If you want to join us there, I think you'd find yourself amongst upstanding, right-thinking citizens, from your perspective.

I feel so much better now. Thanks for the lead!