Mini-Editorial: When is a game truly completed?

I have this thing about finishing games I’ve started, even the ones I didn’t enjoy that much. I have unfinished games stretching back 10-15 years that I fully intend to complete someday. I have games that were a chore to play – Star Ocean 4 and 5, I’m looking at you – that I still feel uneasy about having abandoned. Don’t get me wrong – I know that my limited spare time can be put to better use than to force myself through the tedium of Star Ocean 4. Even if I had no other pressing demands on my time, I could find a lifetime of things to do that were better than Star Ocean 4. But still, I’m wired such that I get some degree of satisfaction out of feeling that a game is complete.

But what does it even mean to have completed a game? Is it enough to have reached the end credits once, even if there are multiple endings to unlock? Does it mean finishing every sidequest and tracking down every unique bit of content? Should you have attained the platinum trophy (or equivalent)?

For the most part, I tend to move on from a game once I’ve done as many sidequests as I cared to do, and then beaten the final boss. If there’s significant post-game content, then maybe I will dabble in that as well. There are probably only a handful of games over the years that I’ve wrung every last bit of content out of – titles that spring to mind off the top of my head are FF7, FF8, FF9, Crash Bandicoot 2, Spyro 2, the original .hack quartet, Ni no Kuni, Cat Quest, Nier Automata and Steins;Gate. Vastly outnumbering those are the games I consider myself mostly done with, but which I would definitely go back to someday to finish off any additional endings and sidequests I have yet to get around to. Assuming there’s still such a thing as retirement in the future, my plan is to spend my twilight years doing all the sidequests I never completed. Maybe I’ll finally beat that last speedway in the original Spyro game, or play through Star Ocean 2 as Claude instead of Rena. If I have children, they will be honour-bound to carry on my work, and play through all the games in my collection that I haven’t even touched.

In the pile of unfinished games, one game stands out above the rest – Demon Gaze. I’m right at the end of the final dungeon of Demon Gaze, but, try as I might, I can’t defeat the final boss. It might be that I need to grind a bit more, or maybe that my setup is wrong and I should just completely change it, but as things stand, he remains undefeated. And it feels frustrating, because the end of the game is so close, and it would be so much nicer and neater to have it done and dusted.

Except Demon Gaze doesn’t really end at its final boss. There’s a bunch of post-game content and a bunch of excruciatingly hard optional bosses that will make my current nemesis look like a newborn kitten in comparison. So, even if I beat that one boss, will I really be entitled to say that I’ve finished the game anyway? I’ll have crossed some arbitrary line in the sand, little more.

And yet, it’s hard to walk away from the sense of achievement that finishing a game (for whatever definition of finishing) brings with it. We all know that we love that feeling – that’s why developers can suck us in with trophies and achievements to prolong our play time. That’s why there’s such a lucrative market in gamifying all sorts of aspects of life, from exercise to travel. But maybe it’s time to take a step back. My gaming backlog may well stretch into the distance, my urge to complete them all may be a constant companion, but even so, my aim will be to enjoy the journey and experience of playing, at least as much as the satisfaction of marking another title complete.

This entry was posted in Editorial. Bookmark the permalink.