Editorial: Giving Up on a Game

But it should be just about over by the time you read this!
The summer drought is never fun.

It has been the summer drought for games once again, and so I have found myself without any new games to play and only my mounting backlog to satisfy my gaming needs. Not surprisingly I have therefore attempted to diminish this backlog by picking up old games I started once but never finished. Unfortunately I was unable to make any new appreciations for these old games, but I did walk away with a question: what is it that makes me stop playing a game? Is it a general lack of fun? Is it frustration at the gameplay? Is it the inability to see a clear goal? Perhaps figuring out why a game might be given up on would require knowing what motivates a player to finish a game and what constitutes a good time with a game. Doubtless these questions depend heavily on the game as well as the player’s own likes and dislikes. So I am going to attempt to map out why I give up on some games in the hopes that it might point out similarities or disparities in others who have a growing pile of unfinished games in their libraries.

Since games are a recreational activity it might be a central motivation of game players to have fun while playing. However, sometimes games have players performing menial tasks for long stretches of time – simple challenges or objectives that typically promise a reward upon completion. These can even be tasks the players put upon themselves, like grinding in an RPG, although grinding is wholly necessary and expected of the player in some RPGs. I have committed myself to plenty of menial tasks in games, grinding for experience probably being chief among them, though this usually does not stop me from playing a game. Conversely, many games I have played that involved experience grinding or resource farming have also been my favorite and most played games. So, fun at every moment of gameplay might not be a core component to playing games, and might therefore not be a factor in why I quit a game. What is more important is having a clear goal and payoff to work towards. Getting levels or resources in a game means getting better equipment or character stats which can result in seeing and participating in more varied and challenging content. Though I would not consider this one of my backlog titles, a game like Diablo 3 is only as compelling as the next thing to work towards, but often the process of working towards that next thing requires grinding and farming in very familiar areas and in very similar ways. Unless I were to hunt down achievements or work towards maxing out all the character types, Diablo 3 would begin to wear thin. And indeed it did shortly after I completed all the newest content added to pad out the underwhelming end-game and so I stopped playing.

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I played Diablo III for a good long while but eventually it stopped being interesting.

Another major sticking point is in how a game controls. It should put forth some degree of challenge but it also needs to control easily. Ease of control, which is an aspect different from the challenge of a game, is a large part of what makes a game easy to pick up and continue playing. Purely in terms of a game least likely to be given up on, a game with complex controls, which are not necessarily poor, will probably go unfinished. Though complex games do not always have complex controls, complex controls are usually a feature of complex games and though these kinds of games can go on to be among the most rewarding and enjoyed by a player once learned, the likelihood of dropping the game early is high. Such a game in my experience has been Frozen Synapse, an asynchronous multiplayer strategy game that has the player moving armed men around to exacting and precise detail, with both players plugging in all of their commands before letting the fight resolve. It is a deeply strategic game, which does not inherently disinterest me though I generally lack strategic prowess, and its control options were downright baffling to me. It took little time before realizing I lacked the motivation to simply learn the nature of this game, and so I stopped playing.

Similarly, a game with poorly realized controls can wear my patience down. If at nearly every turn I must wrestle with some mechanic of a game that interrupts or worsens the gameplay experience then the odds are quite low that I will suffer through it for very long. Things like clunky or poorly designed menus and poor camera control are typical offenders, and I have found both of those fine attributes in Darksiders 2. I purchased this game directly after completing the original Darksiders, a game I found to be a fun 3D Legend of Zelda style adventure with some queues taken from elsewhere like Portal. Yet everything about the sequel felt worse, with no particular breaking point making me throw my hands up and quit. I simply felt tired of the uninspired loot mechanic, the finicky camera, and the confusing quest markers. It all worked to create a feeling of malaise and disinterest. It is true that at times I can merely not be in a mood for a certain game, but I even went back to try it again much later and the result was a plain disinterest in everything it had, and so once again I stopped playing.

No doubt you have games that have gone uncompleted, not to mention some that may have not been begun. What are your reasons for giving up on a game? Are they the same? Perhaps something else entirely? Fret not, reader, you can let it all out in the comments.

5 comments

  1. Wow, that’s exactly why I stopped playing Darksiders 2. I was really disappointed, because I really liked the first one. That’s why I wasn’t put off by middling reviews, but I should have taken heed.

  2. I generally stop playing a game if I feel myself starting to fall asleep with the controller in my hand at an hour when I should not be tired. This happens far more often than it should.

  3. I just realized I wrote this right before the Diablo 3 expansion was announced. Oh well! Guess I’m not done playing that game after all.

  4. It pays to spend some self-research time reflecting on what kind of games you like; not simply genres, but the mechanics and other appeals within them. This can help you decide if a new game is worth your time. Of course, staying open to completely different games with high recommendations from sources you trust is good too. Time, money, and keeping the stress of a swollen backlog down are important for your gaming hobby. Doing this helped me get a backlog of a few very long games (id est, Xenoblade Chronicles), but not a bunch of titles. Now I’ll probably never sink into a pit of despair low enough to actually go through the ordeal of finishing FF8 as a counter-example, because I hated the characters and the mechanics, to your point here. But that came from a simpler, more trustworthy time. I suppose that its lesson; to wit, the lesson of Darksiders II as you guys have expounded upon, is that even sequels to beloved games deserve a healthily skeptical once-over prior to purchase.

  5. Since, I do not buy games that often, I actually do not have a backlog of games I own and have not played. I do have a HUGE backlog of games I want to play though.

    Things that will make me quit a game are usually lack of challenge or poor balance. I like seeing a progression of power with my character and I want the enemies of each successive area to feel hard when I first arrive there. If I can kill bosses too easily, I start wanting to give up.

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