The lights are on
I used to never put a game down until I’d completely conquered it, even if things got so ridiculous that I found myself dodging 100 consecutive randomly timed lightning bolts. Nowadays I’ve stopped going for the full-clear in games from Final Fantasy to Arkham Asylum, and I’m enjoying my gaming hobby more than ever.
[Editor's note: This article originally appeared in Game Informer #236]
Credit (or blame) World of Warcraft for my change of heart. There was a time in 2009 when interpersonal drama blew up the group I was raiding with. Without a steady crew to conquer the game’s toughest challenges with, but unwilling to quit and give up the game that had brought me closer than ever to out-of-town friends who had moved away after high school, I was left to my own devices. At first, completing challenge achievements in five-man dungeons kept me going. For a time after that, bringing my stable of alternate characters up to level cap occupied me. I checked one side goal after another off of my list – and World of Warcraft does nothing so well as providing a lengthy checklist – until I did the unthinkable. I began fishing.
Traipsing around the world and finding rare fish was fun for a time despite the brutal tedium of the fishing minigame itself. Grabbing a couple buddies and taking a shot at the ultra-competitive weekly contest in Booty Bay had its moments. Eventually, though, nothing was left but to earn my coin from the wishing well in the hub city of Dalaran.
Imagine rolling five dice every twenty seconds, trying to get all five matching for a Yahtzee – on each number, one through six. The first Yahtzee is a great moment. The thirty-third, when you get a set of threes when all you need is the sixes to finish your set, is maddening. Fishing up that damn coin broke me.
I saw too deeply into the Matrix; the process of checking off that final box was too transparent in its deliberate spacing out of rewards for performing trivial actions. I had always known it on an intellectual level, but internalizing the fact that I was a rat in a Skinner box, conditioned through a steady drip of inconsequential rewards to perform a task with no intrinsic merit, triggered a deep revulsion in me.
Ignoring the voice in my head that urges me to engage in gaming activities I don’t enjoy just for the achievement, trophy, or simple feeling of completion is now trivial. Sifting through the entirety of Arkham Asylum in detective vision, mining every planet in Mass Effect, skipping arbitrary chests to get the Zodiac Spear in Final Fantasy XII: no thanks. Those are games that I love all the more for my avoidance of aspects that have negative appeal to me.
At the same time, I happily die over and over in New Super Mario Bros. to get every last star coin and play Civilization V again and again to get the achievement for winning with each leader. The difference is that the pursuit of those goals is great fun for me, rather than being a monotonous chore endured in order to check an item off of a list someone slapped together to pass Microsoft certification.
You and I may love the same game for different reasons. My nephew adores playing Minecraft in creative mode on a server with his friends, an experience that quickly bores me even though I adore single-player survival mode. Why, then, should either of us force ourselves to slog through the parts we don’t enjoy just to say we’ve “beaten” a particular game?
I nearly didn’t complete Mass Effect – one of my absolute favorite games of this generation – because the sidequests were so awful. It took me three tries to beat Final Fantasy XII – likewise an all-star of the PS2 era – because I kept restarting after realizing I’d opened the wrong chest hours of playtime previously. Letting go of the completionism bug hasn’t just freed up more time in my schedule for a wider selection of games, it has led me to some of the best experiences I’ve had with my hobby.
Email the author Adam Biessener, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
I disagree, completionism isn't an outdated idea, it's just being implemented by morons. Any game that takes 30 hours to complete shouldn't require you to play it more than once! And cut out the dang progress cut offs.
Nothing I like better than being 50 hours into a game and finding out at hour ten I cut myself out a bunch of cool stuff without even knowing it.
If modern games would build this stuff, without imagining the fans using it are lifeless nuts who love burning hours and hours for nothing, then this practice might not be going the way of the dodo.
I was in a similar state as you, Adam, where completing things is just a fix. As of late, I am playing Borderlands 2's second DLC pack Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage. There are a lot of just filler missions that repeat the same scenario with "more intensity" and they just don't feel fun. I've gotten in to the mood as of late to bypass things such as that. I've gotten 90% of that game completed and to strain myself over the last 10% is not enjoyable. Games like Assassin's Creed which put me on annoying fetch 3329037 of these secret objects only to have to do it for a variety of different items get annoying quickly. Quests that present a challenge or extra narrative without feeling like filler are what I've been focusing on lately. Honestly, if I don't my back log with start hitting the 30s. I whole-heartily understand the need to check off an entire list and feel "done", achievements/trophies or not...but sometimes the extra time and aggravation is not worth it.
I'm not the completionist type... I have my own goals for each game I play (such as Dark Souls without using a shield on my first playthrough). A lot of the "challenges" just aren't fun or challenging enough for me to deem them worth doing.
Demon's Souls remains my one and only platinum, even though Farcry 3 looks to become 2nd on that list.
It's so hard... I wear myself out because I can't say no.
I remember reading this and totally agreeing.
Doing arbitrary tasks in order to brag about maxing out a game is kind of ridiculous. I can understand doing challenging things just to see if you can do it, (like Mile High on CoD:MW on the hardest difficulty,) but collecting all the flags in Assassin's Creed or getting every fish in WoW is really a waste of time, in my opinion.
I think you should have explained in the beginning that you are referring to the hardcore term Completionist, where you have to complete anything that the game provides as a goal in order to claim that you have completed it. I'm not saying you are wrong, it's just that the title put me in a mindset that you don't complete the game's main story when it becomes a bit more difficult.
Once I understood in what context you meant it, I enjoyed reading this.
Never understood the draw of "achievements" at all. I just want to play a good game.