Showing a little restraint

Like many games players, I’ve got a pile of half-finished games. Sometimes I’ve just got bored with them, but more often I’ve just been tempted by the latest new game, and ended up getting distracted. Often I stop playing while fully intending to resume at some point in future. It’s rare that I ever do pick them up again, though, so they just get added to that ever-growing pile of half-finished games, stretching back across several generations of consoles and computers.

The first game that I consciously remember thinking, “I’ll just have a few goes of the new game, then I’ll finish this one off” was Xenon 2 on my Atari ST – and I’ve been suffering from this affliction ever since.

A couple of years ago I decided that enough was enough, and I would stop this bad habit once and for all. Since then I’ve made sure to complete one game, before starting another. “Complete” could mean any number of things, largely depending on how much I’m enjoying the game, and what is sitting in the “to be played” pile, tempting me. Generally it means finishing the main story mode, but not worrying about every single little collectable item – though I enjoyed Super Mario Galaxy enough to go for all 120 stars, even though it meant dealing with Luigi’s Bastard Purple Bloomin’ Coins. I also plan to go back through SMG again as Luigi in preparation for the release of SMG2 next year.

As well as setting my own definition of “complete”, I also have a couple of other loosly-applied caveats to my “finish one game before starting another” rule. Games without a clear plot to them don’t fall under this rule – so I can play a few games of Pac-Man just for fun, without having to get all the way to level 256. I also apply this rule separately for consoles and handheld systems – so I can be playing one epic game on the Wii, and another on the DS. This works because time spend playing handheld games tends not to overlap with time spent playing console games too much – so progress on one doesn’t suffer at the expense of progress on the other. Finally, I tend not to play games from similar genres at the same time – so The Legend Of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass on the DS had to wait until I’d finished Okami on the Wii.

Taking this approach has its pros and cons. On the plus side, I do feel more of a sense of achievement due to finishing a game, rather than just moving on to the next release that takes my fancy. It also works out cheaper as I’m spending more time with each game, so have less time left to indulge in impulse buys. It does mean, however, that I just don’t have the time to play all the games I would like to, so I’m sure I’m missing out on a few classics. Even those that I’m certain I want to play tend to get bought then added to the list of games to play after the current one.

That last point, in particular, makes it a real lesson in self-restraint. All the while as I make my way through an epic masterpiece, I can hear those little cartridges and silver discs begging to be let out of the drawer…

Go on, just take a little break. Hyrule will still be there when you get back. You know you want to play us. We’re so shiny and new. Go on, just open the drawer and break the seal – think of the fun to be had.