I have always had a problem with finishing things. Starting in 4th grade, I decided that I would write a novel. Not any shabby, elementary school novel either. I was gonna write a real classic, like Harry Potter or possibly a series successor to the ever-popular Diary of A Wimpy Kid. I sat down to write that novel, and day after day, I kept writing. I wrote a total of fifty-five pages, which, for an eleven year old, was the equivalent of around three hand-written Oxford dictionaries. The problem? I hadn’t even introduced my antagonist yet.
Long-term projects have never been my strong suit. I frequently skip from hobby to hobby, becoming hyper-focused on new interests just to leave my previous diversions in the dust. While this can be fun in the short term, its consequences are unsettling. This is especially true when one of your favorite pastimes is videogames.
To say my backlog is large is a bit of an understatement. In fact, it is not only an understatement, but a complete lie. My backlog is my log. I have finished a total of about twenty games in my lifetime. About ten of those twenty games come from series like Pajama Sam, Freddi Fish and Spyfox. (Not to discredit the masterpieces that those games were, however. The times I’ve re-played Spy Fox in “Dry Cereal” far outweighs the actual number of games I’ve completed)
The point is, I have a problem. And, as with all problems, sometimes the solution is just taking a step back and re-thinking the process. With this in mind, I set out to rebuild my attitude towards completing videogames.
Step #1: Figure Out What Worked Before
To better understand what motivated me, I ruminated over the games I had managed to complete before. What stuck out to me is that I had put the same amount of playtime into the great majority of them: from 11-19 hours. I noticed that if a game went over that amount of time, but remained unfinished, I was very unlikely to finish it. I had subconsciously created a threshold over which my brain decided that this game was no longer worth my time. It was too long, I had things to do.
Knowing this, I sorted through my games and bundled them by the time it would take me to finish them. I decided this was my “new” backlog, the one I could realistically beat. I was determined.
Step #1.5: Rethink Your Bad Plan
No good plan is good on the first try. This is something I established when I jumped into a game of Beatbuddy: Tale Of The Guardians and quickly realized that my plan was doomed. I was never going to finish it. I was never going to finish Beatbuddy in the same way that no-one is ever really going to remember what that top-grossing Avatar movie with the blue people was about. Yes, it’s probably a decent way to spend your money. No, that doesn’t mean you want to see it.
A key part of hobbies is that you should enjoy them. Unfortunately, unlike many other hobbies, you can’t always be sure that you’re going to actually like a game until after you purchase it. Once the money is spent, and the refund time has passed, you really only have two options: play the bad game, or forget about the bad game. I proposition you this: forgetting about the game is the best option.
Entertainment is something that can’t really be wasted. You’re not “wasting” your collection of Star Wars movies just because you’re not watching them all the time. Sure, you may have wasted money in buying them, but that money is gone now. All you have left to waste is your own time. Playing a game because you wasted money on it is simply adding insult to injury. Would you drink spoiled milk just because you spent money on it? No. By the same logic, forcing yourself to do something you don’t find fun isn’t getting your money’s worth, it’s subjugating yourself to a day of agitation.
Anyway: Rethinking the plan.
Having had my Beatbuddy revelation, I did some spring cleaning of my “new” backlog. I dubbed my new creation the “new new” backlog. I took out all the games I really didn’t like, regardless of completion time. Everything was perfect. Now all that was left was to finish a game.
Step #2: Get Over That Hill
Looking at my options, I decided that if I was going to make any real progress, I should start small. Of the games I had left in my list, Transistor was the most manageable; it required only six to eight hours. I could do that.
In around ten minutes, I figured out that I could not.
After re-downloading the game, I booted it up and found myself instantly confused. It had been a while since I’d attempted it, and I was just far enough into the game that I couldn’t just pick up where I left off. I was frustrated, confused, and kind of hungry. Instead of relearning the controls and the story, I shut it off to go make myself a sandwich. I haven’t reopened it since.
I found that this would become a common theme; much of my backlog consisted of games I “kind of” played, as in played for about two hours and then never opened again. It was a terrible place to resume. I had no memory of the story and had no access to a tutorial. In a way, I had played myself.
Nevertheless, I was still determined. The next game I tried, I was going to finish. In the end, all that was left was for me to grin and bear it for a while.
This brought me to Mark of the Ninja. I had only played around 10% of it years before, and remembered it with a sort of fondness that drew me to it once again. I reinstalled, booted it up, and immediately knocked out 1.8 hours worth of content. I noticed that I was quick to frustrate, frequently getting to the brink of exiting out. Still, I pushed on, setting objectives for myself. By the end of each level, I felt something I hadn’t for a long time from gaming: accomplishment. In the past, I had nearly always quit when the goings got rough. By forcing myself forward, I realized that death after death had indeed paid off, culminating finally in success. However, most importantly, I was having fun.
Step #3: Play, Play, Play
Something I realized very quickly into my playthrough was that something felt very different this time around. Usually, a quiet knocking resided in the back of my brain as I would play through a game: a familiar voice going “shouldn’t you be doing something else?” A reminder that my time is precious, an anxiety reminding me of my responsibilities and deadlines. Having had the day off, the noise was gone. It made me aware of an important obstacle that had previously stood in my way: time. Having made the discovery, I jotted it down; if I want to finish a game, I’d have to make time for it.
Over a period of three days, I promised myself I’d play at least five minutes of Mark of the Ninja. I didn’t set a time limit, and, consequently, I noticed an odd pattern: without meaning to do so, I played the game for the exact same amount of time every single day: 1.8 hours. Serendipitously, even without time constraints, I had set boundaries.
For me, playing a game to finish a game has been a vastly different experience than playing a game to play a game. Through this process I’ve learned that you cannot go into every game with the same expectations. Doing so is a setup for failure, as the game is destined to disappoint you somewhere along the way. You can’t play a platformer and expect the open world of Skyrim, nor can you go into Beatbuddy and scoff at the lack Sims-level character customization. You have to appreciate each for what it really is.
Step #4: The Finish Line
After precisely nine hours, I was done.
Looking at my screen, I felt less like I had finished a videogame, and more like I had worked through a project. In knitting, there are two types of people: project knitters and process knitters. One type of knitter enjoys knitting for the process, the continuous patterns and in-and-outs which make it entertaining. The product knitter knits for the outcome. They knit because they want to make a hat, or a sweater, or a glove. Likewise, I had always attacked videogames as someone who valued the process over the destination. By becoming a “product” gamer, I switched my attitude and reaped a different kind of reward. I had, for the first time in a long time, finished something.
Now all that’s left is the remaining two-hundred.
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You can find more of Celia’s ramblings at her blog, here.