There is something almost therapeutic about finishing a game. Another accomplishment, another disc to put back on the shelf (metaphorically if you are not obsessed with collecting slowly decaying physical media), and the freedom to move on to another game without the slightest twinge of guilt, regret, or sense of failure.
Completing games has been enshrined in the culture by sites like Backloggery and How Long to Beat. I have a 6 year old spreadsheet I use to track what I finish and know other people who do the same. Gaming forums have threads on backlogs frequently; many of us feel the weight of our unfinished games.
Why do we want to finish games, and should we? You’re right, those are good questions. Let’s dive into the why first. I have heard our drive to complete games described as internalized capitalism, oddly enough from self-professed once-libertarian Heather Anne Campbell (shout out to my Elysium comrade Nick Weiger). I am a sucker for any explanation that blames capitalism for a problem (guess why this website isn’t bigger than Google) but I am not entirely won over this time.
Sure, we are idiots who want to feel productive because our value is intrinsically tied to our productivity in this society, which can make gaming seem like a job of sorts, and even communists are fixated on labor and output (as opposed to the psychology of human happiness), but I would argue at least some of the desire to finish things stems from our mortality and the psychology that arises from being conscious of our impending demise. Completing things feels good likely because we evolved to get a sense of accomplishment when we finish stuff. Psychologically, it fills our empty void for a nanosecond. And these ideas are interwoven with the fact we will one day die.
I should attempt to defend my shotgun blast of assertions further, but luckily for me this is a gaming blog or something so my meager reader-base (damn you, capitalism) will have to assume I know more than I do. Or don’t, the point is something drives us to want to finish things, and maybe it’s the same compulsive part of us that drives us to label, catalog, and classify. We make order of the world by conquering infinitesimal slivers of it one at a time. It’s what has allowed us to invent both symphonies and variable interest rates. Or it’s death; what am I, a doctor?
So should we try to finish games? It’s hard to speak for everyone (just this once). I’ve been thinking about this, hence the thing you are reading, and have come to the conclusion that I should drop games sooner than I do. The often endorsed “if you aren’t having fun stop playing,” still feels too hedonistic (and dismissive of the form – not everything should be fun, like reading this) as some things take time to really grab you, but I have moved closer to that idea than my old philosophy of “finish almost everything you start.”
The philosophical and scientific stuff I made up aside, there are practical reasons to put games down. Unfortunately, almost all of them show you their ideas in the first few hours. They may iterate, adjust, numbers may go higher, enemies may get bigger, but generally speaking a title plays its cards quickly in order to capture your attention. A more useful site than How Long To Beat would be How Long Till The Last Innovation. Games that do not add new ideas in the back half or have a gripping plot, and few games do, probably don’t deserve enough of my time to finish them.
This is an introductory statement to what I hope will be a long, illustrious series of posts detailing specific games I have dropped and why. We heard the feedback that this site is too positive and upbeat about games so this is an attempt to create balance by giving me an ongoing, formalized outlet to complain. Here is a short list of stuff I may write about: SaGa: Scarlet Graces, Monster Train, Monster Boy, Moonlighter, Loop Hero, and The Lion’s Song. Watch this space for more. Well, not this space, this post will still be here.