I started writing this one a week ago, but MTV Gamer’s Week got the best of me.
This one is about how I feel when I finish games — and about the grander question I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on: how should you feel when you finish a game?
Here’s how the piece was going to begin, back when I started writing it on November 12:
I’d like to tell you how I felt yesterday, before the feeling vanishes. It was a Sunday, the day of the week I seem to finish most of the games I play. Yesterday I closed the story on “Half-Life 2: Episode 2” and “Ratchet & Clank: Future.” I had been two hours from the conclusion of each game and knocked through Valve’s game, then Insomniac’s.
I finish a lot of games and often enough I’m left feeling kind of strange: a little unhealthy, a little shell-shocked, strangely disappointed. I feel this way after games I really like, mind you. I seldom finish games I dislike.
This is something I should have written about a while ago, because, the feeling I get after finishing a game is rather fleeting. I can tell you that, in…
And there I stopped writing. A week has passed. And some interesting things have happened regarding what I wrote above.
A week later the feeling I described did in fact prove to be fleeting. A friend asked me yesterday what I thought of “Ratchet & Clank: Future” and none of the discomfort I felt having just finished the game tainted my answer. When my friend asked me for my impressions, the things that flashed into my mind were memories of the opening level and some mid-game stuff. I told him how good the game looked, how explosive it is, how, for better or worse, depending on gaming tastes, it stuck to the series’ formula.
I did not say that the game would leave him with a bad taste in his mouth. And I didn’t say that, because I’m still unsure that my immediate discomfort post-“Ratchet” is an actual problem with the game. Or if it’s a problem with gaming. Or if it’s a problem with me. Or if it’s a problem.
So what I was planning on doing last week was analyzing my immediate post-game … reactions. Unlike the athletes I see talking about their own post-game reactions to a big victory, I seldom feel an emotional high. I feel a bit despondent. Things feel quiet. I’m often let down.
What’s the difference between me post-“Ratchet” or post-“Half-Life” and the jubilant post-Super Bowl athlete? The athlete has accomplished something that is rewarded, that’s for sure. And they have succeeded in a competition, in front of other people. That’s an obvious difference. But I feel other distinctions. They get to publicly celebrate their achievement. They go from intense action to immediate group cheer. They talk to anyone with a microphone about what they just did, with the confidence that anyone listening will recognize that their accomplishment was significant.
I beat a final boss and then just sit and watch the credits role. I turn to no one. I have no celebration. I go from experiencing intense action, often let out my own victory yell (it’s true!) after landing the final finishing blow or shot. And then… nothing. My emotions plummet. There is nothing to help them down.
How could I not feel hollow after finishing a dazzling PS3 game? After you kill the final boss in “Ratchet,” you’re done. The game cues a finishing cut-scene, rolls credits and, yes, lets you play the game over in a challenge mode (allowing you to further upgrade your weapons). But immediately after that final boss, you do nothing. Think back to English lit class. There is no falling action. Not that you can control. There is no playable denouement.
I felt the same way after finishing “Half Life 2: Episode 2″ two Sundays ago. I had just participated in a huge battle, then had a first-person semi-interactive view of a major game-ending moment. But once the pace needed to slow, I was not in control. I was just left sitting on my couch, holding the controller, doing nothing.
When I finish reading a novel, I usually feel satisfied. And I don’t feel particularly jarred. Reading is a quiet experience. Closing the book, setting it down and getting on to the next thing in life flows pretty smoothly. Going from beating a game to doing the next thing in life is not smooth.
Finishing a movie involves turning on the lights or getting up from the couch or gathering my coat from the seat next to me. It also involves turning to the person I went to the movie with to chat about what we saw together — to decompress my reactions by exposing them to conversation.
But finishing a game? Finishing a game is like getting in a fender bender. You’re moving steadily along. You have the big bang ending moment. Then nothing. Then it’s quiet; you’re still; and there’s nothing you can do. You’re helpless, and that drive you were enjoying is over.
That’s how I think my post-game feelings work. I’m still sorting this out who’s to blame.
And here’s a twist…
Just yesterday it was Sunday again, and again I finished a game. This time it was “Call of Duty 4.” I liked this game too. I’m not sure if I’d say it was better than “Ratchet” and “Episode Two.” But it is at least as good. After finishing that game, a strange thing happened: I didn’t feel bad. I’m trying to figure out why.
It may be because I didn’t want more. I’m not a fan of military-themed games and may have had my exact fill.
It may be because the final playable scene in “CoD4″ plays out in slow-motion, and that this part follows a very exciting, full-speed playable action sequence. So the game may have been letting me off its gameplay sugar rush in just the right gentle way.
It may be because after the credits roll there is a bonus playable mission. I won’t spoil it, but, rest assured that it is short. Maybe that mission provided just the right brief second helping that let me feel full.
And maybe the thing other games need is a little of that post-boss-battle playability. I love how “Zelda“s end in parties. But I feel the hollow, unhealthy feeling after I beat any of the games. What if I could walk around as Link in those parties? Would I feel less uneasy? Couldn’t I have flown “Ratchet”’s ship home? Or, as in “Grand Theft Auto,” couldn’t I have just been returned to my house, free to roam the entirety of the game world? What if, in other words, I could be involved in the games I play right after I save their worlds?
Like so many things related to the endings of games, the way we feel immediately after finishing a single-player epic has mostly been left undiscussed. Why do I feel so uncomfortable right away?
How do you feel when you finish a game? Do you think you’re feeling the way you should? Or is there anything that should be done differently to the ends of games that change how we feel when we finally set the controller down?
(Recent thing I’ve also done: Had the Wii ignore my birthday.)