Yes, that's right, i said "earnest", in the age of L33t and all that. It's an old fashioned word for a rather old fashioned thought - one that I, and the esteemed Vinay Nilakantan, have often been expressing to the founder/editor/bossguy of this blog (and many other gamers) for many years now. Which is this: If you find a game that you enjoy, for whatever reason, try to take the time and trouble to finish it.
I'm obviously referring only to games that actually have an ending. If you're one of those gamers whose only purpose is to rise to the top of leaderboards in online deathmatches and CTF and whatnot, you can stop reading now. But if, like me, you occasionally lean a little more towards the entertainment side of the games as armchair sport vs. interactive entertainment debate, you'll find playing games through to the end to be an utterly rewarding and satisfying experience.
For starters, there’s the incomparable, bittersweet, I’m-such-a-dude-to-beat-this-but- I-wish-it-wasn’t-over-now-what-will-I-do-with-my-life feeling that you get at the end of an epic quest like Baldur’s Gate 2. There’s simply no other feeling like it. Or there’s games like BioShock, with strictly middle of the road action until that one, staggering moment, 80 per cent into the game, which makes it all worthwhile and will make it one of your most memorable gaming experiences. Even in a consistently brilliant, emotional experience like Shadow of the Colossus, the most gut wrenchingly resonant moment occurs right before the very last level. And who doesn’t want to grab that cake at the end of Portal??
It’s not just about story, either. Some of the best action sequences, and obviously boss fights, occur deep into games, beyond some numbingly boring, backtracking heavy sequences (fanboys, you know what I'm talking about). And even when the ending isn’t up to scratch and seemingly not worth the effort, there’s a unique sort of in-joke kind of pleasure to be derived from discussing with fellow sufferers how an otherwise great game could slip up like that, or leave you hanging. Anyone remember Xen from the original half-life? Or played God of War 2 to the very end?
One of my greatest gaming regrets is not playing very far into any of the GTA games. The lack of a retry option for mission failure, forcing you to often get waaaaaay across the map just to pick up another thing to do kept getting to me. I’m happy to hear that GTA4 fixes this and I’m queuing up for my copy, but I’ll never experience the awe that the entire gaming world almost has felt for GTA3, and San Andreas, and now I never will. I can’t help feeling that my lack of patience (earnestness??) has denied me something, and I'm the poorer for it. It's certainly not keeping Rockstar awake at night, so who's the loser here?
So the next time you need to find your way past the occasional ridiculous level design, or reload for the umpteenth time because of an insane difficulty spike, or tear your hair out because of a seemingly unsolvable puzzle, or repeat the same actions over and over and over again because of brain dead checkpointing, try to grit your teeth, and Finish the Fight. The best may well be yet to come.