Swimming And Quitting


Hallo chums! I went swimming in a pond again this weekend — twice, even. Saturday’s swim was in the pouring rain, just me and three dozen ducks bobbing about. The water was a pleasant 16.7° C. Quietly stalking a mandarin duck, I decided to commit to making the traditional Christmas morning swim. A lot of conditioning and a little stiff upper lip and it’ll be fine, I was sure. When I returned on Sunday, the temperature chalked onto the board was down to 15° C. Fine, that’s fine. Stepping down the ladder, I froze as my foot entered water that unexpectedly felt bloody freezing. I cussed under my breath, remembered my pledge, and plunged in.

Which makes me wonder: when are we happy to stop pushing ourselves? When do we quit a game?

I never used to give up in video games. I beat every single-player game. I’d retry levels over and over and throw myself at boss battles. No matter how daft the gimmick, I’d figure it out or, worse, brute force it. When adventure game logic confounded me, I’d try everything with everything on everything until it worked. I stuck with boring games long after they’d worn out their welcome, simply because I hadn’t beat them yet. I finished every game I started.

Online in FPSs, I spent hours learning levels and practising trick jumps. I can still do a few today, I’ve checked, but not as many as I’d hope. I devoted hours purely to practising leading shots in those days of pre-lag compensation netcode — not trying to win, just trying to land shots. I joined clans, scrimmed, and practised weird secret strategies. I was constantly trying to improve.

These days, I don’t have that same determination. Most games I play now, I probably stop after about an hour. Impetuously or not, I feel that they’ve run out of new things to show me or have me do. Their challenge won’t develop in interesting ways, they won’t give me anything interesting to think about. They’ll continue but barely change. Unsurprisingly, most games I finish, return to, or keep thinking of are challenges. Dark Souls and Dota 2 spring to mind.

I almost stopped playing Dark Souls. I hit a wall at the Bell Gargoyles. I broadly understood what I needed to do but couldn’t quite pull it off. I didn’t have the patience. I kept panicking or getting over-confident. I was angry with the game but could see the problem was me. I needed to changed the way I played. With Solaire and a little music to help me calm down and think (and Twitch set up a bit wonky), I finally beat them and found a peace that saw me through to the end of the game.

After nine years, on and off, of Dota and its mod progenitor, I’m still improving. It’s fascinating. I still don’t fully grasp how this mass of complex parts all work together, and its constant updates mean I never will. It always has secrets to learn or skills to master, and they’re forever changing. It’s not hard, it’s challenging. I still need to pay constant attention, I can’t slip lazily into muscle memory or pattern-recognition as in so many other games.

This isn’t all about challenge, mind. Lots of walking simulators stay in my head for a lot longer than it took to play them, and I’ll revisit them to remember, reflect, and rediscover.

Those are the games I tend to return to and finish, the multiplayer games I’ll stick with. I want games that’ll stay interesting. Everything else, if it’s not exciting or over within an hour or two, I’ll quit. I’m happy to see a game, poke at it, kick it around, learn a little, then stop. I don’t see much point in continuing, not when there’s so much else I could do.

I used to think I relished the challenge, but perhaps I was mostly trying to fill time. Teenagers have a lot of time and a lot of things they’d rather not do or think about. I also wanted to be sure I’d get my money’s worth from a game, as a new game was a rare treat for me.

I appreciate games a lot more now. I want them to give me new and exciting and interesting things. If I’m playing a game, it’s probably because I want to enjoy it, not because I want to occupy myself (well, mostly). I’m so grateful for the rise of short games which know when to stop, and for the Steam sales and cheap games which mean I still feel content with a purchase I drop after an hour. We live in a fine time to not complete games.

I’ve started taking cold showers to help stay accustomed to cold water. It’s making me change my behaviour and thoughts to work with a challenge I find interesting and letting me return to a place I find satisfying. It’s Dark Souls and Proteus in one.

Kenwood Ladies’ Pond gets cold enough in winter to freeze. That’s fine. I’ll be fine. Look how happy these chaps were on Christmas Day in 1920:

This article was originally published as part of, and thanks to, the RPS Supporter program.


Top comments

  1. Alice O'Connor says:

    Oh! I didn't realise this post had been selected for publicness. I wrote it, ooh, 11 days ago. I've continued going at least once per week since.

    This morning the water was down to 13 degrees. Once it hits 12 degrees, they recommend you have a medical checkup before continuing, in case you e.g. die the second you touch the water.

    Very leafy, as well. It's helping with the terror I feel brushing against unseen things underwater.
  1. Borodin says:

    You actually measure the temperature of the water? How very diligent!

    The prospect of swimming in a pool in the rain appeals to me immensely, but the intricacies of achieving that are, I’m sad to say, way beyond me.

    As for games, there are times when I want to do no more than watch an interactive movie: to click on the screen so that it will spit out an engaging tale piece-by-piece.

    At other times I am up for pretty much anything but, as a perfectionist, the very hard games — Dark Souls is the obvious example — are a real struggle, because I have to finish a game well, and not just get to the end.

    • Premium User Badge

      Arnvidr says:

      Swimming in the rain is fantastic, I did it a few times growing up, when I had easier access to a pond. Nothing like that available to me now, but I wish there was.

      My huge backlog makes it easier to drop a game without finishing it, but if something has a definite end I’ll still try most of the time. Various open-ended games, like mostly multiplayer titles though, the effort is often in figuring out if I like the mechanics enough to get enjoyment out of it after learning the game. If I can’t find the enjoyment, I don’t feel too bad about dropping the game completely.

      • Haphaz77 says:

        Open water swimming is fantastic. There’s quite a few places near London to do it, although mostly triathlon related (so there’s the option of a warm wetsuit). Swimming in the rain is quite a fun feeling – the rain’s irrelevant.

  2. bonuswavepilot says:

    The arbitrariness of the difficulty is the deciding factor for me. I have sunk a lot of hours into Spacechem and Super Meat Boy, for example, because while both are taxing (in different ways) it is still down to my skill level if I can beat them. The ones that I have very little time for are anything simply requiring rote memorisation of where the hidden kill-a-majigs are, or those where the solutions bear little relation to what is actually going on like the cat-moustache puzzle adventure games of yore.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I am not sure if I ever push myself to play a game, in the sense of playing it even though I don’t really want to, but I certainly do tend to stick for a long time with certain games, and abandon others after a short while.

    I think there are three different things that can lead to me spending a lot of time with a game (or, at least, playing it to the end). Often it’s that the game has interesting systems that I want to learn – that’s usually it for strategy games (several Paradox games, for example). Other times it’s that I am interested in exploring a world (Skyrim) or experience a story (Mass Effect). Finally, sometimes a game lets me build something and I want to do so (Minecraft).

  4. heretic says:

    I must be at a crossroads then, I have dropped quite a few games because I got distracted by other titles but I still keep them installed in the hope that I will finish it when I find some time (although a new more exciting release usually takes precedence… never ending cycle)

    I should just uninstall them!

  5. Zallgrin says:

    That video is high art. Made me contemplate on my place in the universe.

  6. Cross says:

    The point when a game makes me quit with fury is when it poses me a challenge that is difficult because it doesn’t follow the game’s own rules. When a game sticks double middle fingers to me and just throws an enemy or an obstacle at me that is in no way connected to everything i’ve faced before, that’s when desks start getting slammed.

  7. Kefren says:

    A lovely piece. I agree, and have followed the same pattern myself. Time is precious, it should be used wisely. As I mentioned in another RPS comment, I downloaded a pile of GOG games I had completed (and hidden) this weekend with a specific challenge – one game of each. When I die, it is over, end of story, uninstall. It makes each game suddenly have value again, suddenly tell a story (usually of loss and failure) that makes each one stand out, even games that in themselves are mediocre. And it isn’t a huge time commitment. It usually leaves me wanting more, something I haven’t felt in many games recently. So far I have enjoyed Another World, FTL, Jagged alliance: Deadly Games, Postal, 7th Legion, and Slender. To go: Don’t Starve and Out Of Hell (UT2004 zombie mod).

    As to the cold: I’m a terrible wimp. I live by the sea. I tend to wear a wetsuit when I go for a swim in it. Without a wetsuit I shudder and teeth-chatter for 30 minutes, inching my way in, trying to get past the water-contact-death-zone of bollocks and midriff. I have never been able to do the “just rush in” thing.

  8. soldant says:

    There are two reasons I stop playing – the game ceases to be engaging or entertaining, or the difficulty becomes artificial or skewed due to design flaws. There are very few that manage the former (The Witcher is one example, I just can’t get into it). There are plenty of the latter, because difficulty in games these days hasn’t really advanced much beyond Nintendo Hard. Enemies are becoming bullet sponges turning events into endurance matches, or conversely they simply do lots of damage leaving no room for error. AI has gotten better but it’s never been a challenge, enemies are tough only because they take a lot of hits, or deal a lot of damage, or are hard to hit.

    Games that have design flaws or broken features that make them too difficult for no good reason are the other category of offenders. I can’t wade through ARMA3’s single player campaign because the AI are inept at even the most basic tasks. I’m certain they’ve never advanced past 2001 Operation Flashpoint skill levels. Failing a mission because the AI refused to shoot the target right in front of them, or because they won’t get into a vehicle for some reason they don’t want to disclose, is about the point where I give up.

  9. toshiro says:

    Well done Alice O’Connor. Well done.

  10. Undermind_Mike says:

    Highgate ponds! I went swimming in there in the height of this summer. The water was COLD!

  11. Winged Nazgul says:

    In the old days when we had to walk uphill both ways in the freezing snow to even buy our vidya games, I would never even think of quitting before the bitter end.

    These days, not so much.

  12. TheBigBookOfTerror says:

    I’m sure there’s been many but none stick out. The only game that made me deliberately decide to stop playing was BioShock. I found it too upsetting when killing the Big Daddies. The Little Sisters crying for Mr Bubbles was too much for me, even though I was saving them.

  13. Shazbut says:

    I loved Dark Souls but quit at the final boss fight in the DLC. There was no more game play to reward me and I guessed the ending would mean nothing to me, as the story didn’t

    • Nootrac4571 says:

      Similar thing for me: Got to the final boss of the main game, did pretty ok on my first go before he killed me, then… never loaded the game up again. Not sure why, I guess maybe I just didn’t want it to end? Or possibly I was sad that I’d over-leveled my character so much that he didn’t look to be as much of a challenge as I was hoping, and didn’t want the game to end on a note of disappointment. Either way, it went from “I’m going to finish Dark souls soon,” to “I really should get round to finishing Dark Souls at some point,” to “I’m probably not ever going to finish Dark Souls.”

      • Gog Magog says:

        Well, Gwyn (spoilers? the fuck are those?) is in fact underpowered, which ties very nicely into the overall story(ies) of the game. I think the music might be a dead giveaway for that too.

  14. Easy says:

    Thanks Alice. The Capra Demon was to me what the Bellfroy Gargoyles were to you. I was so close to giving up then. I am glad I didn’t as DS turned out to be one of my most memorable experience ever. Watching your stream brought me back fond memories.

  15. Alice O'Connor says:

    Oh! I didn’t realise this post had been selected for publicness. I wrote it, ooh, 11 days ago. I’ve continued going at least once per week since.

    This morning the water was down to 13 degrees. Once it hits 12 degrees, they recommend you have a medical checkup before continuing, in case you e.g. die the second you touch the water.

    Very leafy, as well. It’s helping with the terror I feel brushing against unseen things underwater.

  16. bill says:

    Same thing has happened to me with age/life/mileage.

    I think it’s simply that when we are young we have so much free time to fill. These days it’s very hard to scrape together enough free time to play even a small section of a game. So I’m much less tolerant of games that waste my time.
    So I also celebrate the rise of the short game. I’m not so sure about the benefits of steam sales though. It does make it easier to buy a bunch of cheap games that you’ll never play… but I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

    I don’t tolerate games that waste my time (with padding or bad checkpointing), but I do sometimes feel that you have to give a game a decent amount of focus to actually get into it. There have been several games that i’ve bounced off in the first hour, but later when I happened to have a few hours to myself i found that after that initial investment I got really absorbed in them.
    (you could argue that’s the game’s fault for having a crappy first section, but I think it’s not always true. You sometimes have to just focus on something for a while at first to get into the right mood/zone/mindset. )

  17. Laurentius says:

    For me I think it’s around 18° C water temp that I give up outside swimming, expecially with not pleasant weather and unfortuantely this year that happend around first week of Septemebr with a few cold nights in a row. Now back to the swimming pool but I’m not fan of that, it’s just exercise, while swimming a mile in a clear, picturesque lake that I’m fortunate to have 35 minutes from where I live, is serene experience.

  18. Wisq says:

    I find that it’s rare that I actually just say “I am not playing this any more”. Rather, it’s far more likely that something more interesting comes along, and I hop over to that, never to return. (Or sometimes I try to return a few times, but give up; that happened with Dragon Age: Origins, for example.)

    If the story / experience is good but the difficulty is too high or there’s needless grindy padding, then I come up with a new game: I pull out my memory hacking tools and start finding interesting ways to cheat, and half the game becomes learning how the memory structures work and defeating them. My feeling is that if it comes to a choice between ceasing to play, or playing on my own (accelerated, easier / more interesting) terms, then I’d rather the latter.

    Really, there’s only two categories of games where I truly say “I am not playing this any more”:

    One, MMOs. I’ve pretty much sworn off them, but I sometimes try new ones … and promptly remember why I swore off them.

    Two, games where I realise I’m drowning in micromanagement and there’s no way to progress further without things just getting more tedious, and/or where I’ve reached the peak and it’s downhill from there. This includes X3:TC (I had all the money in the universe but trying to run a fleet was ridiculous, even with good mods), and Farming Simulator (the basic crops are automateable with AI drivers but anything more advanced meant driving through every field myself). Yes, I got the latter as a joke, but it was decently entertaining for a while. :)

  19. MirzaGhalib says:

    For me it’s about static gameplay. I quit Saint’s Row 4 because it became a game of ticking off icons on my map, doing the same things over and over again. It didn’t feel fresh or in any way fun and after some time of doing this I realized I was only playing it out of some sense of duty, and I was bored to death. Most of the time I quit games that promise 60-100 hours of gameplay, I’ve noticed, because all of those hours of gameplay amount essentially to fluff.

  20. Demiath says:

    The fear of not making Progress with a capital P is what makes me quit games. I said a lot of nice hype-driven things about Demon Souls even before it was the Cool Thing to do in Videogameland, but once I actually sat down with the game (and its sequels) I found myself demoralised and paralyzed by the risk of spending my precious free time on a boss fight or segment which I might not be able to finish during that particular play session. Sitting down with a game after a long day at work, hitting my head repeatedly against a brick wall and then going to bed without having accomplished anything is simply not something I’m willing to tolerate as part of my adult life.

  21. liquidsoap89 says:

    It mostly depends on WHY I’m quitting, and also how extreme my reason would be to do so. I quit AC4 a week or two ago. I couldn’t handle playing one more mission where I had to walk behind people talking to each other (and failing if I was caught). The controls were an act in frustration as well.

    But that’s the last game I’ve quit in a long, long time. There are games that I’ve unintentionally stopped playing, but I plan on continuing them at some point. For games like Homefront, where they’re not necessarily bad, but more a waste of time; I’ll finish them just for the sake of knowing that I’m done with it. I don’t like leaving a story unfinished (I can never watch half a movie for instance, even if it’s awful), but if I’m at the point where I’m not even thinking of the story any more (which was the case in AC4) then I can call it quits and not feel bad.

  22. Hillbert says:

    I’ve just quit Rainbow Moon (PS3 turn based RPG) as it’s too necessary to grind battles to level up, but the battles themselves take far too long to play out, with very little variation in how they play.

    It’s a shame as the overall feel of it is great but it’s one of those instances where I’m not going to complete a 40 hour game that’s artificially lengthened with a slow levelling mechanic, when I would have completed the same game at 20 hours.

  23. Frye2k11 says:

    The best thing about dark souls 2 is that it made me play dark souls 1.

    I think dark souls 1 is the best videogame i ever played. Teaching you by killing you is how i started gaming on my commodore 64 all those years ago.

    I stopped playing ds2 when i could not find a SINGLE valid tactic for handling some mobs in front of some dragon boss except for cheesing them with either a bow or pulling back into a passage where the enemies could not follow. Googling showed the way to go was to skip them by running past them or keep killing them until they stopped respawning. Something snapped at that point. Not a single reviewer noted that. (or perceived it to be a problem).

    I found myself surprisingly militant in criticising ds2. I just can’t stand that other people don’t seem to agree that it took 2 steps forward and 5 steps back. So much for professional games journalism when the only guy i seem to agree with is link to youtube.com

    How come only one guy finds not a few but dozens of flaws that I agree with? It is just not likely is it? Not when a game gets 9/10 scores across the board.

    Could it be that reviewers were afraid to address the issues because the internet would simply say they suck at the game and as such are not really suitable to do their jobs?

    I honestly don’t know.

    What I do know is that hard games bring out the worst in some people.

  24. jezcentral says:

    Requisite anecdote: the coldest water I have swum in, un-wetsuited, was San Francisco Bay. The water was straight from Alaska. Brrr! (I was there for the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon. I have to mention that, as I am now fat, and trading on past glories).

    Rather than accepting the More Free Time When I Was Younger argument, I think it has more to do with Extra Disposable Income And My Wife Has Not Seen My Steam Library. If a game no longer entertains me, then I have hundreds (yes, hundreds) of games ready to take its place.

    The first game I bought at full price and bounced-off after one hour and never went back was Sins of a Solar Empire. A critically very well received game that nonetheless put me off RTSs for life.

    Most recently, I gave up on the last boss fight in Wolfenstein: The New Order. I got past the first one, but the second just pissed me off too much. I’m probably 90 secs from getting the You Have Defeated The Game achievement, but I don’t care enough to get it.

  25. jrodman says:

    If a game makes me fail “unfairly” three times, I typically quit. The definition of unfair is quite mood-dependent.

    I’m the kind of person that wants the game to apologize if it does something untoward to my player.

  26. Chiller says:

    Ohh, this is the perfect place to share the story of my time with Stanley’s Parable.

    By all counts I should have liked that game, yet I never did. I found it incredibly overbearing and condescending. Yet for a while I trudged on, trying to get some enjoyment out of it.

    Eventually, I came to a place where the narrator starts telling you how you have no choice (philosophically I don’t disagree with that statement, but I digress). At than point the gameplay mechanics available to you are reduced to a one-button prompt, so you cannot do anything but press that button a few times in order to continue. In effect you really have no choice.

    Or do you?

    After thinking about it for all of, I dunno, 5 to 10 seconds, I quit the game and never went back. It was the most satisfaction I ever got out of it.