Press Reset: Why Can't I Finish The Games I Love?


Despite all the things that have changed over the last couple of years, with the arrival of a new console generation and the growing pains that have come with it, one thing remains stubbornly the same: I still haven’t finished Skyrim.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s been three years, and along with the new-gen systems have come some games that may have surpassed it in quality. And yet, despite starting it at least a dozen times, I’ve still not passed the embassy mission of the main story. Yes, Skyrim is packed with more content than a boa constrictor let loose in a choose-your-own pet store, but surely any sensible person would at least have played it through to completion once to see how it all ends.

It probably goes without saying that I’m not a sensible person, because this isn’t the only game I’ve deferred finishing. Even discounting games I’ve rage quit in disgust (the new Thief springs to mind), there must be half a dozen I dragged out until the bitter end. Fallout 3, the original Dark Souls, even the last Pokémon I played – Sapphire, I think – were all delayed by restarts and reloads, as I tried to nut out the perfect formula. Even Dragon Age: Inquisition is threatening to become a member of the never-gets-done club. I’ve started it twice already and I am, when I get home, more than likely to start over again.

But why are my chances of finishing a game inversely proportional to how much I enjoy it? And am I the only person on this planet with this particular problem (statistics would say no, but who can rely on maths in this day and age)?

Looking back, there are several factors that seem to nudge me to drag out my experience of a game.

Firstly, and this is kind of an obvious one, the game has to be good. For me, a bad game is like a trip to the dentist: something that’s more painful the longer it lasts. If it sucks, but it doesn’t piss me off enough to make me quit (again, see Thief), I’ll rush to the end of the story and then swap it out at the game store, possibly pausing to exorcise my console if I feel it’s been tainted by the experience (I tried six Hail Marys after Unity; not being Catholic, I’m not sure it’ll be enough).

Secondly, it has to be big. Not necessarily long, but certainly taking place in a world big enough to swallow most of New Zealand. Side quests and other activities are a must, as well as plenty of places to explore; wide open spaces where I can while away the time before I have to renew my membership to the human race.

After a couple of days faffing around, I’ll start to get an itch in my brain. A little voice that’s telling me that I should start over, and see what would happen if I tried something different in those few missions I’ve already dug through. Maybe I should have used stealth, or found a way to use that machine gun, or flung spells instead of flailing swords.

I can resist for maybe a day, telling myself that I always do this, that I should finish things I start, that memorising the first mission is not why I bought the game. But always, always, I’ll give in, and boot up that opening sequence once again.

It’s worse with RPGs. Especially those massive Bethesda games that are more like countries than computer games. Exploring Skyrim is a task I still haven’t grown bored of, and taking on Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland wasn’t much better. I doubt I would have finished it if the DLC hadn’t come out and encouraged me to finally hang up my Hazmat suit. I couldn’t tell you anything about the character I used to finish, however, because by that stage I’d started so many they’d all begun to blur together.

But I don’t need different characters or branching storylines to hit the reset button. I must have started Sid Meier’s Civilisation V over a hundred times, quitting for no other reason than… that’s just it, I don’t think I have a reason. I love that game. I love all these games, but I just can’t stop quitting them.

But why, she asks, flinging the question into the ether of the Internet. Why can’t I finish what I start? Why does my brain explode at random intervals, and nudge me into incompletion? Why is it that I can obsessively collect every trophy out, but just can’t bring myself to pick up the big one? Is it just that I want to hang on to my good experiences, or is there something deeper at work, some psychological hurdle I can’t bring myself to cross?

I’ll probably never know – at least not without some serious therapy – but what I would like to know is if there’s anyone else out there like me, because it’s pretty lonely at the never-finish station, and it would be nice if I didn’t have to shelter under the partially completed roof alone.

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