What is Video Game Completion?

In the gamer scheme of things I am a freak of nature. I finish nearly every game I buy. Weird right? The fact of the matter is that most narrative based games are not completed. It was considered an enormous success by the developers of Bioshock that 50% of those who played it reached the end. Even the Half-Life 2 episodes, which are only about 6 hours long and have extremely friendly level design aren’t finished more that that. It’s been compared to elsewhere, and for the life of me I wish I could remember where, to imagine if 50% of people walked out of a movie mid way through, every movie. It’s strange.

It begs the question: what drives a player to complete a game?

Obviously the answer is going to be different for every person. Not every aspect of every video game is going to appeal to every person in the same degree. Hell, not every video game appeals to every person. I’m not going to pretend I can break it down it wide ranging categories that cover the basics. Personally it’s the stories that drive me to finish games. I want to see what happens in the end, the gameplay is a means to that end. I recognize this; because I have played some god-awful video games that had little redeeming value and I have finished all of them, save for two types of instances. Instances where the game collapses in on itself in a wondering display of corrupted saves, code or disc or the fact that its an RPG where I reach the point where there is no story and all grinding gameplay (in most cases a JRPG).

For example, a game I received as a birthday gift, Orphen: Scion of Sorcery. Go ahead and look it up, I’ll wait. Suffice to say the game was next to unplayable and the story a little loose unless you were paying attention. The combat was plodding and the puzzles trial and error. I dropped over 10 hours into that game to reach the end only to find the game sending me back to the beginning and tell me to pick up the second storyline. Apparently there were two narratives you could choose from and enough time travel to make you choose both. Two hours later I found myself in a room with no exit running in circles with a camera trapped behind the cramped walls most of the time. I looked up the walkthrough and found that I had to leave via a door that didn’t exist in my copy. Game dropped.

The other instance is when an RPG stops telling a story and continues on for long periods of grinding before you can move on to the next stage or doesn’t tell you where to go next and expects you to wander around the world map until you find it. This happens with regular frequency in the Final Fantasy series around the three quarters mark and I find myself stopping around that time too.

But then comes the exception to the rule. One of my favorite games of all time, if not my favorite game and yet I have never beaten it. I have started Baldur’s Gate on three separate occasions, sunk a good 40-60 hours into each play through and end up not finishing. Either due to a poorly chosen save point, changing computers or lose of data over a few years. I love the game and its story, but I cannot get myself to the end of the game.

Which brings me to my second question: what counts as completing a game?

I’m still speaking of narrative games only for the purpose of this question. Once again the answer is going to be different for every person and even different with every game. It could be as simple in reaching the end credits and maybe seeing whatever might be on after them (I’m looking at you Prince of Persia). Does epilogue DLC or extra episodes count towards the original game or do you subconsciously think of them as different games? For the actual end, if you put in the work, but couldn’t quite get to the very last spot is it enough to watch someone else complete the game? If there are multiple endings, is one good enough or do you have to play it through multiple times? And now with achievements and trophies, is complete all the points or the platinum trophy?

With Black I got through the whole game except the last room of the last level. It was nearly up to the point where I wanted to heave the controller at the screen, but I still wanted to see the end and couldn’t afford to pay for a replacement TV, so I contacted a friend to do it for me, saw the end of the story and felt I had completed the game.

With Kingdom Hearts I could have beaten the game long before I actually did, but to me that wasn’t finishing the game. I went and grinded up so I could get the ultimate keyblade and take out the two side bosses and finish all the tournaments. Then I went and beat the final boss. That was completing the game for me.

With a movie or book, or play, completing is seeing the ending. Only with video games does this become a near philosophical question to the nature of the medium. I am curious to hear your take on it and any stories of your own.

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