Saturday, April 22, 2017

Accepting that I Will Die Before I Finish All of the Games I Own - Opinion

Revisiting Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls on the GBA has resurfaced a morbid thought I've had for some time now: "I'm never going to finish all these games". Since gaming is my primary hobby, I've accumulated a lot of cartridges and discs over the years, so much so that I've currently run out of boxes to stuff them into. Yet as I grow older and look back on a number of titles—like the NES version of Final Fantasy I for instance—I've recognized that there really is no point in it being there. I mean, Square's roleplaying swan song looks nice as a collector's item sandwiched between Fester's Quest and Fire 'n Ice, but why am I keeping it if I'm never going to play it? And it's not that I necessarily don't want to either; it's just that there are so many other games in my mental queue ahead of Final Fantasy that I'm honestly going to die before I get around to even starting it.

Ever since I was a kid, I took immense pride in finishing a game, despite that I almost always used Game Genie to accomplish the feat. Before I knew how to properly spell I had my mom assist me in writing down the titles of games I had conquered, creating a very small but empowering list of virtual achievements. It wasn't something I'd openly brag about at school (at least not that I can consciously remember); I simply made the list to remind myself of the places I've explored in the 8-bit realm. As I grew older and gaming expanded, I couldn't maintain my humble little list, but the burning desire to "complete" games and other pieces of media stuck with me throughout my adolescence and into my adulthood.

I make no attempt to proselytize or defend the value of judging media based upon whether or not it's been "beaten"; in many ways, this line of thinking is a shallow way to reflect upon an experience, akin to keeping notches on your bedpost for every person you've slept with. But it is what it is—my completionist methodology strongly influenced my preference to consume media that has a terminable end, pushing me away from simulation & multiplayer games, as well as long-running TV shows & comic books. I've slowly learned to appreciate the merits of perpetual art (I'm part of a comic book podcast after all), but my fondness lies first and foremost with products I can essentially "cross off a list" when I'm done.

That's why as long as a game had end credits that could be reached, it was my goal to reach them. Even lesser known and mediocre titles like Magic Boy for DOS and Spy Hunter for Gamecube were given a fair shake in my hands, due to my juvenile delusion that all games were created equal and fair (developers are smart people so they make smart design decisions, right?). I eventually had to acknowledge that I probably won't beat every game made in history of the medium, but I was certain that I could finish all of the games I at least owned, even if they seemed insurmountable at the time. And thinking about that filled me with a flurry of excitement—there were so many worlds, characters, and gameplay systems left to explore!

Nowadays, as I slowly approach the age of 30, that endeavor feels more bleak than bright. It's not because I feel "too old" or I've come to hate playing video games or anything, but there are some titles I simply don't want to spend more time on than I already have. Part of the reason I started this blog was to jot down concrete thoughts on nearly every game I played so I'd have a handy place to direct people to if they wanted my opinions on a certain title. But when I think about replaying certain games for a review—like Kingdom Hearts or the Gears of War series—there's a part of me that feels my time would be better spent elsewhere, especially as I search for a way to bring in a stable income. And if I feel that way about games I've already played, then what about those that I've yet to touch? Am I always going to look at titles like the Xenosaga trilogy, Septerra Core, and Holy Diver as time-sinks I'm more than happy to procrastinate playing until it's too late?

This predicament reminds me of a poignant existential truth (that I can't quite remember the origin of): throughout your life, there exists an unrealized instance with every single person you know in which you will say "goodbye" to them for the last time. Since everybody passes away, we might say "I love you" to a person without fully comprehending that it might be the very last time we'd say so. In the same way (though obviously less emotionally damaging), there exists one last time that we engage with every piece of media, whether we know it or not. As a kid I was stoked to play through all the Zelda and Mario games biennially—now as I finish up The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I'm painfully cognizant that I'll only ever replay the entire Zelda series maybe one or two more times in my life. All of my experiences with each piece of media have a finite end, and as I grow older I'll become more and more aware of each one.

Part of the good news is that this revelation isn't one that fills me with overwhelming dread (that moment came about while I was in college). No, this is the slow ebbing of childhood optimism and wonder; the acceptance of another naive dream crushed beneath the weight of time and mortality. It's the start of skepticism towards the games I place on my wishlist and the gradual acceptance that there's no real reason to keep over half of the games I own. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing either—like with my "completion" habit, it simply is, and I'm learning to accept it day by day. I may not be able to complete every game I own (I'm sorry Final Fantasy on NES—we never even got to have our final "goodbye"), but as long as I'm spending my time on the things I feel are most important, I'm sure my inner child won't mind too much.

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