When I was a kid, I spent my summers swimming, riding bikes, hanging out with friends—and playing video games. Oh, did I ever play video games. From my late-June release from school to my sigh-inducing return after Labor Day, I'd just chug them down one after another. I started new adventures, yes, but I also took the time to mop up games I never finished during my months of schooling.
Yes, "Finish Them!" was my gaming code of honor as a youngster. I'm still disappointed in myself for never finishing my younger brother's copy of Muppet Adventure for the NES, even though it's the video game equivalent of what comes out of your dog's rear end after it chews up a Kermit doll. But I had fewer games to work through as a kid. I had more free time, too. And games were generally much, much shorter than they are now. If I'm not playing a long game to review it, there's an excellent chance I'll bounce off before I hit the endgame.
I've been thinking about this poor habit of mine lately thanks to an article penned by Kotaku's Nathan Grayson titled "Getting Bored And Walking Away Is How Most Games End For Me Now" (which in turn was inspired by a Tweet by cartoonist SpaceCadette.
"Last week, I realized I have a problem. I’d just finished browsing the Nintendo Switch’s entire eShop for a second time in search of a new game," Grayson writes. "That’s a weird thing to do, especially considering that I still haven’t finished [The Legend of Zelda:] Breath of the Wild. I should finish it, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Hours and hours and hours later, I’m bored."
Grayson cites other games he's peaced-out of, most (but not all) of which are open world: Far Cry 5, Persona 5, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and the Grand Theft Auto games.
"This isn’t another piece complaining about how Games Are Too Long These Days. Rather, I want to talk about what happens when our personal endings for game after game are a tepid, non-committal 'Well, I guess I’m done with that,'" Grayson continues. "No fond farewells, no heroic final acts, not even a satisfying credits sequence. Just the nondescript silence after you turn the television off."
I get it: 100 hours is a lot of time to ask from a person. We've also brought game bloat on ourselves by criticizing games for being "too short," though I think more variance in game prices has helped developers, especially indies, feel better about producing shorter works (when I was a kid, you usually paid the same price for every game regardless of whether you bought Super Mario Bros 3 or—sigh—Muppet Adventure).
But I after some reflection, I can't say I feel guilty or unfulfilled about games I enjoyed but ultimately bounced from before finishing the final act. It's enough for me to remember my time with a game warmly, even if I started to feel a bit bored before finally turning it off. Maybe I'm alone in this, but maybe I'm not.
First, a counter-point about Grayson's criticism of Breath of the Wild. Breath of the Wild literally gives you all the tools you need to defeat Ganon in its opening hour or so. It's difficult, obviously: The idea is to travel around Hyrule, beef up Link, draw the Master Sword, and then carve up the evil pig. But if you're determined to beat Ganon in your underwear while wielding a twig, you technically can. Many speedrunners have. Breath of the Wild is one of Grayson's showcase "problem games," but my ornery, contrary self believes any studio aiming to make an open-world game should take a lesson from it: Show players their end goal from hour one, then let them amble over there on their own good time.
As for games that bury a long, linear story campaign in a veiny network of sidequests (Skyrim being a perfect example), sometimes I finish them, and sometimes I don't. While I won't waste my time trying to engage myself with a game that just doesn't sing to me, I have no qualms about running over every hill and harassing every bird in an open-world game that engages me from the start. I meet new characters, I hear new stories, I listen to new music, and I take in new landscapes. If I tire before the final credits roll, I do indeed turn off the game. But I don't say, "Well, that's an anticlimactic end." I say, "Well, that was fun for as long as it lasted. Maybe I'll go back to it someday" (Sometimes I do. No foolin').
I think of it this way. The average brand-new triple-A game costs $69.99 USD. That's not cheap—but it's probably less than a night out for a movie, dinner, and drinks with friends. If I buy an RPG that can technically last a bajillion hours but only play through half of it and enjoy myself up until that point, I still think I have my money's worth. Besides, as I suggested earlier, you can always return to a game you put down. You might not (we all have our Stack of Shame), but the option is there.
Finally, there's no obligation to enjoy just one kind of game. Sometimes I feel open world fatigue myself. That's when I take a "break" by playing some games with clear, quick paths to a conclusion. Night in the Woods. Forgotton Anne. Sushi Strikers. Bastion. Heck, sometimes I just fire up Super Mario World, or Mega Man X, or Sonic the Hedgehog, and just blast through it in a couple of hours. Just to give myself that sense of completion and watch those credits scroll. It does feel good, admittedly.
Whatever you play, the important thing is to make sure you enjoy it. Don't measure your enjoyment or success according to whether you tackle that big dragon or evil wizard at the end of everything. Above all, don't feel poorly if you never get there. There's plenty of stuff to feel guilty and upset over once you turn the power switch off.