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I already mentioned in a previous entry how a chance meeting with Nintendoll got me to show up here - when I saw this month's "theme request," however, I knew that I was also going to have to credit her with providing me an idea for my next post.
The story in brief: that day, before I spoke to her myself, I listened from the sidelines as she talked to a few other people - aside from the blogging-related stuff, one of the things she mentioned that I couldn’t help but pay attention to was how many games she's never gotten around to finishing. Perhaps seriously, perhaps not, she offered a hypothesis as to why: "I just don't want it to end."
I froze. Whether she was joking or not, I knew exactly what she was talking about. And I, for my part, was deadly serious.
Out of all the "Fear"-themed blog posts you're likely to read this month, I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that this phobia is the most embarrassingly silly and downright irrational one you'll see (and considering that all of these "fears" are videogame-related to begin with, that's saying something). But it's very real. Strange and stupid as it may sound, sometimes the fear of the “The End” screen trumps that of the “Game Over” screen. Or at least it might appear so.
While my own experience regarding this fear spans several titles, perhaps the most striking parable I have to offer is the case of Final Fantasy VI, one of my all-time favorites…that to this day I have still not finished. It’s certainly not that I “couldn’t if I wanted to” - even back in the day, as a twerpy tween playing “FF3” on my SNES, I could work my way nearly all the way through, hardly breaking a sweat, until I was literally at Kefka’s door. The statues were kaput, the 8 Dragons were busted, and my characters had all the high-level equipment, experience, and skills to pretty much assuredly cruise through the few battles that were left. Heck, I had enough spare GP to win several of those airship models and imp robots at the auction house, if the game would have let me. I was READY.
But then, somehow, things would happen. And moreover, I would let them.
Even though one more measly session with the game would have allowed me to finish, if, say, a friend asked me in passing to borrow the game “whenever you’re done with it” I would immediately hand it over, insist they take it. After awhile I’d get it back, and I’d be staring at my old save file again, being beckoned anew to bring things to their overdue conclusion…buuuut, I’d say to myself, seeing as how long I’ve been waiting for this, somehow the flow here just isn’t right. If I want to finish this the right way I’ve got to do it without some huge break in the middle of it all. Besides, not having played in awhile I might be setting myself up for a trouncing this far in anyway. Might as well start over.
And I did, without the least bit of hesitation or regret over my decision. And I’d work my way all the way through, all over again, right up to those same last few battles…but then, perhaps, my folks would rent some new title, which I played instead…and took back to the video store…shortly thereafter bought…played again, for awhile (maybe even actually completed it!)…put aside…and eventually ended up back at FF3 and my unfinished business with Terra and company. But again, you know, it’s been awhile…
And it would happen again. And again. I honestly am afraid to guess how many times I got myself SO close to finishing the game, but each time I’d reach the threshold I’d find some excuse to keep myself from crossing it. And it gets worse - some years on I just so happened to pick up FF Anthology for the PS1, and got reacquainted with my old pal after a long, gradual estrangement, thanks in part to my stubborn refusal to just hunker down and close up shop. Regardless, it felt good as ever to play through all those familiar scenarios, beat up those monsters, fill in Gau’s “Rage” list, just like old times - yep, right up until the three Goddess statues kicked the bucket yet again. Immediately afterwards I saved my game and got off the system for awhile, but this time when I came back I picked Anthology right back up without a second thought…and booted up FF5. And I never finished that one either. I have yet to pick up FF6 Advance on the GBA, but someday I almost certainly will. And I have no doubts about what will probably happen (or, should I say, not happen) when I do.
What in God’s name is WRONG with me?
Most gamers have no such problems whatsoever with “closure” or “finality” - they’ll play a game, get to a point where they’re finished with it (usually after they’ve seen the ending, reasonably enough), and move on to something else, quite likely with little, if any, intent of ever returning to the item they’ve completed. Heck, they might even (gasp!) trade in or sell it. In my own case, there are plenty of Things I Used To Like that I’ve had no problem leaving decisively behind me, but in most of those instances you could say I decisively “outgrew” them and my tastes changed to a notable degree - when it comes to certain specimens of my favorite games, however, I still admire their various aspects and enjoy playing (most of the way) through them just as much as I ever did, and somehow that changes things.
It might stand to reason that I’d be afraid (reasonably or not) of being unable to enjoy these games anymore, or at least as much as I used to, after finishing them, but that seemingly obvious root motivation doesn’t apply, at least to a conclusive extent, to this basket case of a gamer - there are several titles, which I may even highlight in a future blog entry, that I’ve finished not once but several times, know every nook and cranny of inside and out, and yet I’m confident in declaring that my enjoyment of them hasn’t diminished at all, as down to this day I still get the occasional hankering to take another run through them, despite the overwhelming, if not overpowering, senses of familiarity and “been there done that” at work. Moreover, there are plenty of other titles that I’ve had an even more numbingly “normal” reaction to - I’ve enjoyed them once, set them aside, and moved on, end of story. To put it bluntly, I’m utterly stumped - why is it that such an exclusive selection of games manages to activate this impenetrable mental block of mine, while the rest pass right on through?
None of them are too challenging for me to potentially finish. All of them are appealing enough for me to, somewhere deep down, want to see everything they have to offer, endings included. And all of them are still on my shelves to this day, with their save files intact - I could stop writing right now and rid myself of these inhibitions lickety-split, if I wanted to. And I do - I fully realize how unbelievably silly this whole thing is. Especially considering that heck, I’ve done this before - I’ve finished games I like a lot and nothing’s changed. I have absolutely no good reason, or even a bad one, really, not to do this. But I still don’t.
Because even if it almost certainly won’t happen to me, I still know it CAN happen. And HAS happened. And that’s enough to spoil the whole blasted thing.
While the only game I’ve mentioned specifically in relation to this unspeakable mess so far is an RPG, I’m also a frequent partaker in “arcade-style” games - scrolling shooters, 2D fighters, and so on. Despite being short in length and light on unlockables and other trinkets, these games are built to be nearly unlimited in terms of their potential for rewarding replay - even if you can breeze through straight to the end credits with your eyes closed, on one measly coin, you can almost always still figure out a way to squeeze a few more points out of a boss, or formulate a strategy to consistently beat that one fellow player who always seems to edge you out, if you’re willing to keep going. Until a better-tweaked revision of your favorite game comes out, you should, theoretically, have no reason to abandon it outright in favor of something else.
But, chances are, you do. Moreover, the more time you spend, the better you get at a game, even a seemingly bottomless well of potential as evidenced within these long-running genres, the more disposed you are to eventually never wanting to touch your favorites again. In fact, the players who are most likely to tell you outright that they never bother with a former mainstay of theirs are the ones who hold a solid, established high score or other record - as much as they were once willing to devote themselves heart and soul to a particular title, to the point where they could all but recite the programming code from memory, in many cases once they get to the point where they’ve “done everything there is to be done” in a particular game, not only do they lose their motivation to play it competitively, but their motivation to play it at all. Even a casual run-through “just for the heck of it” doesn’t interest them in the least anymore - all of the raw appeal that the game had for them, even before they decided to play it “seriously”, has simply vanished. All they can do is move on to mastering another title, and take another heavy step towards that same deadening ambivalence being born anew.
Let it be exceedingly clear - I, like most players, am nowhere near as good at ANY game as ANY of these guys are. I will never set a high score record in anything. I will never win a tournament, ever. I will never see everything that most games, in pretty much any genre, have to offer. But while this state of being is a source of frustration for some, to me it’s got an unnervingly comforting quality - even if I never beat a particular game, if it’s a title I enjoy I could potentially play it, whenever I feel like firing it up, until the day I drop dead, and quite literally never get tired of it. Moreover, this vague, and perhaps impossible, ideal has apparently managed to extend its tentacles into my attitudes towards games as far removed from the arcade scene, from whence it came, as one could get.
And I know it’s ridiculous. I know that it’s almost completely a product of my own mind, with little actual substance to back it up, and much to dismiss it. I know that I deserve every last bit of mockery that I get for even admitting to this.
But it’s still there, and FF6 and its selection of companions remain unfinished. To this day I have not entered that final door in Kefka’s Tower.
Perhaps that fact is what frightens me the most - that even after progressing, as logically as I know how, through the reasons why I shouldn’t be afraid (if “afraid” is even really the right word to begin with) to finish any game, I’m right back where I started, with nothing more than a rambling and semi-coherent blog entry to show for it. Even when it comes to such an inconsequential hobby as video gaming, it would appear that I’m not completely under my own control.
You might disagree, but for me that possibility is as frightening as anything else. Even The End.