Growing up, I didn’t own very many games. Christmases and birthdays gave me an opportunity to ask for new ones, but for the most part, my gaming intake was a slow, unsteady trickle. Because my roster of games stayed pretty tiny, I did my best to play the hell out of each and every one I bought, mastering their intricacies and making an effort to complete even their smallest challenges.
Coupled with an overabundance of free time, this drive to see everything my games had to offer showed me the small, unadorned corners of my favorite releases: I earned each of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron’s nineteen gold medals, I got a Birdie Badge on every single course in Mario Golf, and 100% completed Banjo Kazooie at least twice. I made the most of my every purchase, and I felt good about it.
Unfortunately, my playing habits have changed, and my compulsion to wring every ounce of fun out of my gaming library has long since dissipated. Glancing at my shelf, I estimate that I’ve finished only a little over half of my games. This behavior is a far cry from that of the boy who once spent months (literally months) playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 until he beat the game with the entire roster of unlockable characters.
I suppose it’s inevitable that I would change. After all, I don’t have nearly the amount of free time I did when I was twelve, and there are a whole host of reasons why I can’t plumb the depths of Sonic Generations the way I might have been able to ten years ago.
For starters, it’s all I can do to keep up with current releases. More games are coming out than ever before, and if I want to stay on this gaming journalism thing, it’s in my best interest to take in as many as I can. This means renting/purchasing whatever I can to stay relevant, leaving little time to go back and address a game’s more esoteric portions, like high scores, achievements, and the like.
This goes double for when a game is particularly lengthy, or if I drag my feet playing it. When I picked up L.A. Noire last May, I had a blast playing through it with my friends co-operatively; I would be at the controls while they shouted instructions and helped share in the drama of the case. This went on for two weeks before our schedules fell out of sync, and I became reluctant to play it unless everyone was there to help experience it. Needless to say, I haven’t picked it up in nearly a year, and it’s my own fault. Other games are life-absorbing to the detriment of my entire social- and work-schedule; I called it quits with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning after 45 hours, and I declined to pick up Skyrim or Red Dead Redemption because I knew they would require time to commit that I didn’t have.
Other times, I’ll drop a game when I hit a particularly challenging area, or when the game ceases to be fun. Batman: Arkham Asylum, for instance, features a section that requires total and complete stealth, rather than the lenient pseudo-stealth prominent in the rest of the game. As someone who sucks at traditional stealth games, this brought the experience to a screeching halt, and my progress is the same nowadays as it was in 2010 when I put it on hold. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, a game I received two Christmases ago, reached a level of challenge where progression no longer felt rewarding to me, requiring too much mastery over the game’s so-so mechanics than I felt justified my time.
Then there are the games I haven’t even started. Yes, I have purchased games that I have not loaded up even once. As a passionate lover of JRPGs, I had heard nothing but good things about Lost Odyssey, so when I finally snagged it for ten dollars at Gamestop, I was beyond excited. I put in on my shelf, waiting for the right time to break it out and experience its J-majesty. It’s still on my shelf now, still waiting for that moment that feels “just right.”
Sometimes, though, I can drop a game without feeling pangs of guilt. During the Christmas season of 2009, I picked up Shaun White Snowboarding on a Black Friday special. I must have played that game a grand total of two hours before I put it away and never looked at it again. Normally, this would feel like the most wasteful crap I could possibly do; it’s like taking one bite from a burrito and then throwing it away. Ah, but this burrito was filled with sawdust and soap shavings, and I didn’t feel inclined to ingest any more of the wonky controls and mediocre gameplay than I already had to. Besides, the game cost less to buy than it did to rent, so my purchase was more of an experimental, “let’s see how this goes” situation.
In general, though, I do my best to finish my games, even the ones I’m only slightly enthusiastic about doing so. I picked up the first Gears of War game for a song from a retailer in Denver three years ago, and though it took me many tries, I managed to muster up the motivation to put the Locust in their place about two months ago. Also, despite its repetitive career structure, I had a blast putting away Pure during a break in my senior year of college, and I managed to ignore my “wait until it’s just right” impulses and beat Alan Wake on Saint Patrick’s Day weekend.
Like many aspects of my life, it all comes down to motivation. Video games, it turns out, require just as much effort to stay on top of as anything else. More so, I would argue, for even short games still require 6-8 hours to run their course; compare that to a movie buff, who can polish off new films in two hours or so a pop. If I’m to make any headway in improving my gaming lexicon, I’ll have to buckle down and actually schedule time to play video games. The things I do to chase a career.
Maybe I can someday complete all of my games with the thoroughness I had when I was twelve, but for now, I’ll concentrate on experiencing as many games as I can and getting past my guilt of not finishing everything in my library. After all, I’m trying out more new games than ever before, and there are too many exciting things happening in the industry now than to worry about whether I spent twenty hours trying to beat a game or forty hours getting all of the achievements.