On a recent episode (mp3) of Start The Week, a BBC Radio 4 discussion programme, poet and publisher Michae Schmidt says: “It would be nice if we didn’t read books to finish them, but if we read books to enjoy them and be in them. There’s such a joy in reading. A lot of books now are constructed so that you– they aspire to the condition of film now, and not to the condition of music any longer.”
While convalescing in front of my computer at the weekend, I found (without remembering how) this Tumblr in which someone logs every game they finish. A noble idea, but I consider how many games I could put on a list of my own. This year… maybe two?
This is, in part, because there are a lot of games which cannot be finished. Even discounting multiplayer games, I might have played a hundred hours of Football Manager this year, but there is no end in sight. It’s also not always clear where the finish line is. I finished Watch_Dogs’ storyline, but I haven’t finished all of its side quests and collectibles. Have I therefore not completed the game?
As sales fill our libraries with untouched games, there’s also an increasing amount of talk about “backlogs”. A crushing weight rests upon our left shoulder of the games we haven’t got to yet, while our right shoulder bears the weight of those games we’ve started and not yet finished. Games themselves encourage this way of thinking: achievements, ranks, worlds and features that only unlock according to your progress. The very notion of “progress” through games being a desirable thing talked about alongside, you know, “enjoyment”.
It strikes me that singleplayer games aspire to the condition of film, yet most people treat them as music. I don’t mean only that campaigns and storylines are over-reliant on cutscenes or traditional character arcs, but that more broadly these games seem to want to drive you towards a finish line. Yet most people still don’t reach it.
Do you finish games? Is it a problem that you or others don’t?
Should or could singleplayer campaigns be constructed differently, in a way that might better capture our desire to “enjoy them and be in them”?
Does our future lie in The Forest-style plot-as-endgame sandbox experiences?