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What drives you to finish? Is it the FOMO, the concern that something important is right around the corner? Is it the importance of completing a game and leaving no loose ends? Is it the feeling of achievement, of climbing that hill to the top?

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19 thoughts on “Discussion: Sunk Cost

  1. i strangely have little to no gamer urge to complete. unfortunately i am also lacking a completionist nature in other parts of my life as well…
    so, i suppose i can’t comment or relate, but i wanted to say, look at me! i’m a counterpoint! i’m a weirdo! pay attention to me!

    i suppose it would be helpful to value hard work and dedication in myself & others, but that part of me is not there. i’m not sure if it left or was never there, if it might appear or return, but there i am.

  2. Droqen! I can say I’m not as completer-masochist as I used to be, but I do find it difficult to let go. In ye olde days, it was rare I could finish anything at all because games generally worked players until their skill crinkling. Text adventures aside, there were few games I actually finished so butterfly behaviour, flitting from game to game, was the norm.

    I’m suffering from something that evolved when corporate game design started to give a shit, with the rise of the Japanese console at the end of the 80s. Games began to become much more achievable. In a way, it’s a very modern affliction.

    Of course, this is considered aberrant now.

    No modern game wants to be finished. It wants to keeps its players inside its bellies for ever and ever. My precioussss.

  3. I beat System Shock 2 a long time ago, the whole thing, even when things took kind of a weird, hard-to-follow, too-linear turn near the end. It was fine, but I did find myself enjoying it less. It wasn’t ‘sunk cost fallacy’ though. I had faith that there would be *more worth seeing*.

    That faith is all but gone for me these days, which I’m not willing to blame specifically on any one thing. Here are a few though:
    – I play games less, so less chances to get wowed.
    – More & more games are less interested in explicitly hiding interesting stuff past the first hour of gameplay.
    – I give each individual game less of a chance -> less chance to even discover if there is something interesting past the first hour!
    – I’ve seen it all anyway: as I grow up and consume a broader spectrum of *stuff* the things I consider novel and surprising dwindle, and dwindle, and dwindle…

    I miss having that, and I wonder if there’s any way to get it back. Maybe not in games! But other media doesn’t have have the same weird depth to its surprises.

    So, you know.

    Hopefully games.

  4. I still have faith when it comes to La-Mulana, I just don’t have the time / patience / puzzle-solving sharpness to get past my last block. I suppose you could say I still have faith there’s stuff worth seeing, but it’s become too expensive for me.

    I… will probably go back and re-play some old things to remember what the faith felt like. Maybe this faith is just the feeling of youth.

  5. Ah, now System Shock 2 is a game I’m not sure I could put myself through again today. However my memories of that game are pretty clean – I was enjoying myself most until the absolute end!

    My faith that a game will give me something worth seeing has been tested to destruction. When the doubt creeps in, it is unusual for a game to come back from that although, as I noted, there are exceptions.

    La Mulana! That was another death in stasis. I was spending so much time in there – it was just so expensive in terms of Electron Dance research. I’m sure I didn’t even scratch the surface of it. So many secrets in the damn game. Desert Island game for sure.

    My kids are playing Roblox grindy-games over and over again and I’m not sure if I feel like I lost the faith or feel pain that they’re spending their childhood on *that*.

  6. What I console myself with is, there’s a kind of comfort in routine and that’s why kids like something they can play over and over? It’s not like when I was a kid my experience of playing Yars’ Revenge one time was radically different from the next.

    I mean, I’m also someone who has replayed Stephen’s Sausage Roll at least three times in its entirety, Knytt Underground ditto, and I always go back to NightSky, so it’s not like I feel like ticking off completed games from a list is what I need to be doing myself.

  7. Matt,

    I guess you’re responding to my Roblox lament. For several of the titles the kids are drawn to, they’re basically cookie clicker where the clicking is replaced by carrying Crap to Base. Collect enough Crap then you can buy an upgrade which will speed up the collection of Crap – and you’ll need a lot more Crap for the next upgrade. Rinse and repeat. Some of the games do involve challenge/skill (although it feels like luck from what I’ve seen) but they are *all* obsessed with upgrades which you can pay real money for: it’s basically all F2P with many parents refusing to plug money into all these games (hello!) so the kids end up grinding away for rewards.

  8. Yes I was! Sorry I guess I didn’t complete the thought of “My kids are into those Roblox things too.” They have been told and I think internalized that paying real money is a ripoff. I’m not real sure about the mechanics of everything they do but I figure they probably want to spend time on something that’s not mechanically sophisticated. And at least they’re doing stuff if they’re carrying Crap to Base (I mean, they’re actively walking around), which is better than cookie clickers where a lot of the game is torturing you by encouraging you to stare at a timer ticking down. As we discussed earlier.

    (Though they may be doing some of that too. One of my kids was explaining this morning how he had deliberately not played one of his games for a while because when you come back you get a Homecoming Gift which lets you accomplish something three times as fast as you did before. In this way is he turning the system on itself? Anyway, the game isn’t getting any money out of him.)

    This even seems back on the main topic now–the thing that encourages us to wait for the moment that the number goes up and you can click again in cookie clicker is similar to the thing that bugs us when we haven’t finished a game, except this time drained of all possible significance and reduced to mere itch-scratching.

    Also if you click that link, and then click through to my thing about clickers/idlers at Carl Muckenhoupt’s The Stack, you will find me saying something not uncomplimentary about Jon Blow. Cherish that, as you will not see its like again anytime soon.

  9. Whatever the adult perversions imposed on something like Roblox, the attraction seems pretty clear, laying as it does between play-acting and environment mastery. Framing it in terms of challenge, skills or mechanics seems to be missing the point. If you can’t get your own tree, pocket knife and quiet to build yourself a tree fort, you’ll build your fort out of a Skinner box.

  10. Matt

    That’s one of my goto Blow references too, although it didn’t save me from a partial roasting when I wrote Arithmophobia.

    Maybe completing a game really is just clicking those cookies, with the hope that it will be the last time you have to click them.


    Welcome back to the comments – it has been awhile.

    I guess the big thing that bothers me the most is that my children have, well, someone who is Really Interested in Good Videogames and I’ve put them through their paces with fun multiplayer games, old 2600 titles for reference, modern adventure experiences – and even a bit of first-person shooting. We have family Minecraft sessions. We’ve discussed No Man’s Sky. They’ve spent time in the company of Miasmata, Eastshade and INFRA.

    Yet, despite all of this, both my children have been locked into Roblox and nothing but Roblox for months. And I find it immensely annoying because I think of all the great games we have and how much time is being squandered on Roblox which I don’t find particularly creative. It was peer pressure that got them in, of course – lots of other kids were playing it.

    My continued irritation at Roblox has led me to a decision – that I will spend some time in Roblox and get a hands-on feel. But as you highlight, this will miss the meta aspects of the experience – social, for example. I won’t be playing with any friends. I’m going to explore Roblox myself and report back from a vantage point of knowledge.

  11. I’m not sure what happen to my English skills at the end of that comment. OH WAIT YES I DO I made the mistake of writing when my brain was fried. (It’s been a busy evening watching my daughter play rugby.)

  12. I guess the big thing that bothers me the most is that my children have, well, someone who is Really Interested in Good Videogames


    (he has really good taste in music too)

    (also at least one of my kids was somewhat into Danger Mouse, though it was probably a reboot that would not meet that dude’s standards)

    (my triumph was that one of my kids was singing “I’m fat I’m fat” over and over again because one of his friends was, and I said “look if you’re going to do that you have to at least watch the real Weird Al video” and now they like Weird Al)

    (probably I should offer to be your Roblox friend, but no)

  13. Dad joining in will certainly help make it uncool. For the full dropping it like Facebook effect, consider asking to join their social group “for research”. At this point, it might be the equivalent of a Second Life-style glorified chatroom so this would be its death knell in your household.

    I never would have thought of INFRA as a child-friendly game, and there’s merit to the notion. There is the urban exploration thrill, which might be relatable if one leaves, say, by Sheffield’s abandoned canals and factories. There’s the do-gooder aspects where you do everything from photographing wear to recycling bottles. But the game speaks of corruption, politics and murder in a series of increasingly unsettling locations. Some of the puzzles require abstract thought, there’s a lot of reading, there’s a lot of non-obvious one-way doors, and the later chapters break what seems like established rules of photography. On a more subjective note, I can’t see a child projecting oneself onto the protagonist’s voice and speech patterns.

  14. Off-topic but my daughter was telling me that Minecraft: Story Mode was on Netflix “and you can even make choices!” and I said “So it’s like you’re playing it!” and she said “No. You’re watching it. It’s on Netflix” so by Electron Dance Law I was obliged to change the topic to duck penis.

    (I did not do this. Don’t call the social workers.)

  15. hello mr electron dance. what is the OST to your witness video? there is a song that starts when talking about the first meme. ive been looking for it. thank you

  16. hroom, I have a little more traction with my little ones with all videogame stuff I do and talking to someone “who made Gangbeasts” at Rezzed gave me lots of points.

    My son loves three-dimensional exploring games – he watched me do a lot of Miasmata – and he’s watching me play INFRA (I doubt he would sacrifice his all-important Roblox Roblox Roblox time for a slice of INFRA). We’re both *not* following the story at all and, yes, every now and then the protagonist swears which is something I can live with (it’s not all the time, at least). We like to laugh about his mannerisms. “fuck, I almost died!” one second later – “that’s five packs of flashlight batteries!” like it’s his one goal in life.

    Matt, I really feel sometimes like neither of the children are going to pick up their heritage of having a great taste in games. If there’s something I can leave to them, I thought it would be that. But apparently no. My son is great at maths. My daughter is really into art. Booby prizes.

    I also mentioned duck penis in the YouTube comments and my correspondent went silent. I think I have to be careful waving my duck penis around.

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