Sometimes, you’ve just had enough. You’ve died to the same boss over and over, you’ve repeated that fetch quest too many times, or you’ve encountered a glitch that prevents further progress and completing the game. Whatever the reason, sometimes you just need to take a break. I’ve noticed in my time a certain sort of guilt that comes with abandoning games, both from myself and others. I’m going to recount a few experiences that have led me to decide that it is wrong to feel bad for leaving a game unfinished.
The first example from my life is one that I’ve seen a lot, enough that I almost see it as a predatory practice by certain game companies. I’m talking, of course, about subscription and micro-transaction based online games. Personally, I’ve spent more time and money on World of Warcraft and League of Legends than I’m willing to admit. Years of my life were devoted to these two games, and I’m both happy and sad to say that things have cooled down there. I haven’t played WoW in over a year, with many a shorter break before that, and LoL only gets clicked on for a rare Friday night with friends. I’ve kicked both bad habits, and while it feels so good to reclaim both my schedule and my sanity, it hurts my heart just a little bit to these games continue without me. It’s been two expansions since I truly cared about WoW, and I haven’t seriously invested time in League in months, with even more time between now and when I last felt real joy outside of winning a match. I’ve all but given up these two timesinks, but I still feel a twinge of nostalgia when I think about Firelands trash runs or going 0/0/24 on Blitzcrank. I don’t think I could ever reclaim that old feeling, but God do I miss it.
The other issue with these games is the actual investment I made. Should I feel obligated to play them, simply because I spent so much money and time on them? I feel silly for giving up most of high school to Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm, and I’ve bought an embarrassing amount of skins for LoL, but does that mean I have to keep playing to get my money’s worth? Sometimes it feels like I’m abandoning my investment and my memories by shelving these games. But why? These things don’t actually exist. All that money was spent on mindless entertainment. All I ever saw was pixels on a screen arranged to be aesthetically pleasing to me. I’m comfortable looking for new pixels instead of spending my life with the same ones over and over. I would much rather remember my past fondly than go back to it and lose my chance for a present and a future.
The second type of game that I’ve felt deserved better than me as a player is the visual novel genre. When I first started playing, I ate them up. Katawa Shoujo, Grisaia no Kajitsu, and ef: a fairy tale of the two flew by me as I was desperate to catch up on this genre I was only just discovering. Those three all sit in a special place in my heart. I can still hear the music and need a moment to collect my emotions before continuing on. Once I was more accustomed to the style, however, I found myself slowing down. I realized that a lot of the relationships were borderline abusive, that a lot of the girls had significant mental issues disguised as cute character traits, and that almost all of the sex and other 18+ content was extremely male-empowering. In my first few games I loved seeing the main character mess around with his heroines, I loved seeing their ditzy reactions, and when their relationships paid off I could see real love and affection there. Now, I struggle to believe that I could have gotten through Grisaia and ef (Katawa Shoujo is a bit safer, perhaps due to its status as an Original English Language Visual Novel, or OELVN) knowing what I do now. In more recent days I’ve dropped My Girlfriend is the President?! and G-Senjou no Maou due to these issues. I feel like I’m encouraging a misogynistic culture by supporting games like these. I have a dream to write a visual novel that treats its characters equally, and you’d be surprised how few of those there are, especially among the most famous ones.
Let’s get back to the important question. Should I feel bad for dropping these games, and practically the genre itself? I can understand an argument for disrespecting someone’s art, as I know firsthand how difficult it is to write anything, let alone a multimedia experience like a visual novel. I completely believe in respecting the art of the video game, an issue that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. But if I disagree fundamentally with the values being brought to the table, isn’t it my obligation to protest them? I abhor this sort of behavior in the real world, so why would I use it as escapism via these games? In my eyes, maintaining my moral backbone is more important than respecting art. I would never sell out what I believe is right just to get my “Completed the Main Story” achievement. And I’ll never feel bad about that.
The final category isn’t a single game, and it isn’t a single genre. It’s something that every gamer had dealt with, and it stares into our souls every time we open our library. I don’t need to tell you what it is. You already know the one. Or maybe two. Perhaps even a dozen. All of us have something in our library that not get the attention our impulse-buying selves thought it would. For me it’s XCOM, it’s Condemned, it’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution. There are more, but I’m almost embarrassed to admit it. Whether it’s from a Humble Bundle or a tantalizing Summer Sale, we’ve all acquired games that we are unlikely to ever play. I’m not here to tell you to go and give them their due, because the point here is that it’s ok. Some games just don’t work for us. Whether we try them and find some fundamental reason that we cannot continue, or just don’t get sucked in, they just lie in our library, the time counter displaying minutes instead of hours. So should we feel guilty about it?
If you made a $60 purchase and never touched it, maybe you should feel some remorse. But the point of that is to learn and change your buying habits, not to feel like you owe the game itself something more. With Steam’s new refund system, even that problem is taken care of. So why do we still feel bad about it? I theorize that it comes from prior knowledge of the game’s quality, such as reviews and Let’s Play’s. We can know so much about a game before we play it, that we have an image in our heads that we hope to match it to. I enjoyed Fire Emblem: Awakening, so I figured XCOM would be great for me. I enjoy a good horror game, so Condemned should be good for me too. And I had heard that Deus Ex was awesome too, so getting it for only $1 was an amazing deal. For one reason or another, I haven’t played them much at all. But the point of this article is that it’s ok. It’s ok to stop playing something. No matter what the reason is, it’s ok. The moment you stop having fun is when the game truly loses its value. Never forget that we play games for entertainment and artistic value, so if we don’t enjoy ourselves playing it, we have every reason to stop. Never feel guilty for what you enjoy, because it’s your taste that makes the games you do finish so special for you.