There’s something to be said for completing a game and moving on with a clear conscience. Nobody is left in limbo, either literally or figuratively, who shouldn’t be. Everyone has been saved or killed. Everything has been explored. We can move on without regret. That rarely is how I play games though unfortunately, and I can’t be the only one.
The games that really grab me and keep my rapt attention for long periods of time are usually story driven action adventure or role playing games like “The Last of Us”, “Mass Effect”, and most lately “Horizon Zero Dawn.” I become ensconced in their worlds and stories. I find myself wanting to do and see everything I can right up until that fateful moment when I get my first look at the world map littered with icons showing a mere fraction of what there is to accomplish. It’s at that point, and many like it, that make me balk at the task before me.
I enjoy completing games as much as the next person, but when I’ve put 10-20 hours into a game so far and have the crushing realization that I’m still in the tutorial town and haven’t even really entered the game proper yet, I know I won’t be completing the game. “Divinity: Original Sin” is a great example of this phenomenon.
Upon learning how to do so I dug up every grave, I stole every hanging painting, I explored every back corner and locked room, and talked to every NPC with more to say than some comment on the weather. I took every quest possible. I completed as many as I could before venturing forth into a nearby field which I’d read was particularly dangerous until you’re level five or six. And then I realized that I’d been playing the game for 20 hours, I was only level four, and I hadn’t really even developed the story behind it all yet.
I cleared that area eventually, and the next, and I can’t honestly say what happened, or how far from the end I actually am, but I haven’t played the game in months and I’ve got 82 hours logged in the game so far. I have no real interest in going back to it either.
It’s not because I didn’t enjoy my time, nor is it because I wasn’t engaged in the story driving me along. It’s that 82 hours have passed, and I lost interest. Something else came along and I stepped away to enjoy that. And every time I think about going back I feel overwhelmed at the idea of what I still need to do. On top of that I can’t remember what I was doing, where I was, or how to play the game any more.
By now I’m becoming self-aware enough that I can see it coming before I get distracted and fade away. In “Horizon Zero Dawn” when I left the beginning area I’d put 10 some odd hours into the game. I took a look at the world map and thought “holy crap, this is too much.” I am still playing, I’m still accomplishing things, and I’m really compelled to continue by the world, the history, and practically every aspect of the game. But that map is daunting.
There are worlds I’ve read about and games I’ve played where I want nothing more than to exist in that universe a little longer. I want to draw it out, experience more. And here I’ve got something I’m really enjoying, and I can see that I’ve got no end in sight, but I’m overwhelmed instead of overjoyed.
Why is that do you think? What do you think contributes to the longevity of a game, or an experience? Is it my age, or my place in life? There is clearly a sweet spot, and I am finding that for me it is clearly better to be left wanting.