Soul Searching In Stopped Stories

Struggling to find meaning in my Finish The Damn Game Month experience has been my own, personal writing hell these last 30ish days. While I participated like the rest of the Sprites and Dice staff, I don't share Eric's masochism for repeatedly bashing my head against a wall until it breaks (the wall, not my head); I posted this tweet at the thought of trying to finish Furi when May was approaching (and this one when it hit). Nor do I have Wyatt's unfinished game library for variety, usually keeping myself to a few titles at a time as I savor my way through them.

It took a whole month of reflection to finally realize what made Finish The Damn Game Month so unique to me. And it might seem basic to the point of banality, but I'll just come out and say it: I have trouble finishing games with stories. Good stories, or some kind of plot arc, or ones with a narrative carrot dangling after the final boss.

I could never figure out why. Until now.

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My save file says I beat the story in 30 hours, but ask me how many months REALLY passed until I beat it.

Let me be clear here about one thing. I'm actually much more likely to finish a bad game than a good one. I've done this with books, as well, and I don't think I've ever walked out of a movie on the first viewing. One of the last books I read, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, I was probably “done” with around page 200; and yet I read the 1200+ pages of that tome just to see how it would end. Yes, I know people love that book, but fight me. One of the main characters literally sits in an apartment for 1000 pages of nothing happening! And I forced myself through it! I do this all the time with games. Yet, when I finally find a good game with a good story (video or board game, rare as they are), I just can't seem to polish it off.

And I got to asking myself. Why?

Why is it that I can get 98% of the way through a game and then put it down until it nags me like a splinter in the back of my brain. I got through half of the story of Thimbleweed Park, I nearly finished the insanely long first curse of The 7th Continent, and then I set them down to collect dust. Just like that. Assassin's Creed: Origins I'll give myself at least some slack on, since there's a level grind involved in getting to the credits. Though even then I was burning through it the last time I picked it up. My worst offender of all time (which I finished last year) was The Witcher 3, right before the final boss. I was maybe 20 minutes of play away from my happy ending and I knew it; yet it took me literal months to force myself to pick it back up and play that last third of an hour. I probably spent ten times as many minutes wasting thought on the memory of that unfinished save than it actually took to polish off. And I loved every hour I spent with The Witcher 3.

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The game that's kept me hyped for over five years for the release of Cyberpunk 2077. You'd think it wouldn't have been such a bother to get through that last bit.

The more I went back to each of my unfinished stories, the closer I moved to putting a finger on it. One title down, shift a little to the right. Another title crossed off the list, move a little closer to center. Finally finished that next game, X marks the spot. I enjoyed savoring my stories so much, I got so invested in them, that when the finish line was in sight I sabotaged myself to draw out the journey. I tripped over my own two feet just so I could turn the few remaining hours of gameplay into months of loving memory. Of course, the basic rules of momentum applied themselves in full force, and once at rest those objects decidedly stayed at rest.

And the rest was history. If not for Finish The Damn Game month, I have no idea how long those games would have sat unplayed.

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Arguably the best modern point-and-click adventure out there today. I don't wanna talk about how long it got left, ok?

The whole experience taught me a valuable lesson. There's nothing wrong with enjoying a single play through of something if you relish the time spent. All stories end, and to draw out that natural conclusion is to affect a slow death on that thing you love. Your feelings of endearment in memory find themselves at odds with the momentum of never returning to finish what was nearly complete.

And in that stagnation, the memory mires until it becomes an inconvenient burden in the back of your mind. I've inflicted entirely too many of these memories on myself throughout my years of gaming. And it's time that stopped.

I'm glad to say that, playing through the new God of War recently, I was actually able to stay the course steadily through to the credits. It took me roughly a little over a week (I think a couple of weekends alone at the house helped on that count), but I didn't put it down like I had so many others. I kept that object in motion staying in motion, and the results?

The results felt all the more sweet in the storytelling. It's a feeling I'm not liable to forget.