Gamer who loses interest at the climax finds out he’s not the only one.

One of the biggest differences between modern and early-era video game design is the concept of progress. Long ago, most games were single-screen skill challenges. Pac-Man, Galaga, and Asteroids all pretty much showed you your entire range of abilities and roster of foes within the first minute of play.

Nowadays, though, games are designed to continually introduce new play mechanics, environments, and enemy types, as well as plot developments. Ostensibly, the tail end of the game should be the very best part, since it’s when the stakes are highest, the challenge the most complicated, and your arsenal of skills the most sophisticated.

And yet, that’s right about the time Japanese Twitter user and light novel author Fumitoshi Hizen (@HizenHumitoshi) puts down his controller and stops playing.

“When I’m playing a game and get close to the end, I suddenly lose interest in beating it, and just stop playing it entirely for a while. Does this happen to anyone else?”

To clarify, Hizen isn’t necessarily talking about finally losing his patience after trying to slog through an unenjoyable game. It’s simply a phenomena that he experiences right about the time the developers were probably expecting maximum player excitement. Judging from reactions to his tweet, he’s not alone either, as comments included:

“I never imagined that I wasn’t the only one who feels this way”
“I have exactly this same syndrome as a gamer.”

“I get all the way up to the final part, then I go back to the beginning and start over instead.”
“I usually stop playing Pokémon when it’s time to fight the Elite Four.”

So what causes this? Sifting through the responses, a couple common themes pop up, one involving opposite-end-of-the-spectrum reactions to gameplay evolution. In terms of gameplay, a fun game needs to give you time to play around with new skills and mechanics after you’ve acquired them. That means you’re probably not going to be getting any broadly useful new ways to play at the very end of the game, which can make the game feel stale in its final chapter. On the other hand, games that do throw the player a major gameplay curveball for the finale can make all the skills they’ve spent the game up until then polishing feel pointless, destroying the sense of the hero’s hard work and determination being what saves the world.

“Strategy games are all about figuring out ways to get the best performance from your characters, and once you’ve done that in the mid-game part, the gameplay starts to feel like data processing.”
“If there’s some weird level design for the last boss’ area, I really lose interest.”

Story also plays a factor. Ordinarily, the climax should compel you to keep playing to see what happens next, but that doesn’t happen for gamers who feel like they can already tell where the story is going.

“I took a six-month break right before the last boss fights in Final Fantasy VII and Devil Summoner. I could predict what was going to happen next, so it felt like the story was already done. And it’s even worse if someone spoils the game’s plot for me.”
“In RPGs, once I know for sure who the last boss is going to be, I can pretty much see everything that’s going to happen with the rest of the plot.”

▼ The mysterious stranger with the creepy mask was the villain all along – what a twist!

There’s also the fact that many games are now trying to be as non-linear as possible, and with dozens of side quests that can be completed in any order or outright ignored, the primary storyline isn’t always particularly substantial or compelling.

“For games with a linear design, I play right on through to the end, since I can’t wait to see what’ll happen next. For games with a more open design, though, like The Elder Scrolls or Fallout, I stop before the end. Those kind of games are fun even if you don’t finish them…you’re enjoying just being a part of that world.”

And then there are those who don’t finish their games not because they don’t like them, but just because they don’t want them to end.

“I got right up to the end of Fallout: New Vegas, but it made me so sad to think about my adventure ending, so I made a new character and started all over.”
“For dating simulators, I can’t bring myself to get the best ending with each and every girl. If I do, I get so sad thinking about how there’s nothing more for me to come back to that game for. That’s why I’ve hardly made any progress in great games like Kanon, Air, and Clannad.”

Ultimately, it looks like the key to making an ending player want to play through is a difficult balancing act. The gameplay can’t just be a dull continuation of what the player has already been doing for hours on end, but it still needs to maintain a connection to the foundation its laid while providing something new. The same goes for the story, in that it can’t be completely predictable, but has to have laid enough groundwork that the emotional payoff is something players will want to see, even if it means bringing the narrative to a close.

Or video game developers can just adopt the Hideo Kojima philosophy.

Source: Twitter/@HizenHumitoshi via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2)
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he pretty much felt like he’d beaten Pokémon Sword after catching a Pikachu and evolving a Magikarp.