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.