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Perfect ending pressure

Are you a perfectionist? And if so, does this affect how you play video games in any way? I’d certainly class myself as one because I have a fondness for getting things ‘just right’. I’ve been thinking about these questions since a brief conversation with cary from Recollections of Play in the comments on a post recently.

This article was one where I’d asked readers whether they immediately replay releases once they’ve finished them to make different choices or see alternative endings. This isn’t something I usually do myself. I might reload the last save point if it’s right near the end and won’t take too much time or effort to get to the other outcomes; but it doesn’t feel right to use the few spare hours I have to restart a story from the beginning when there are so many games waiting to be played in my library.

Those two sides of my personality – being a perfectionist and not wanting to replay titles – don’t always exist side by side happily. They have a tendency to fight against each other and create a certain amount of pressure when it comes to gaming. There’s always that niggling fear of failure in the back of my head, along with the constant feeling that I’ve got to make it to the ‘best’ ending in a single play-through; and I’ve noticed this can impact the way I experience a title if I allow it to do so.

For example, when you’re presented with a choice within a game, how do you approach making your decision? The most reasonable methods are to either consider what the character you’re playing as would be most likely to do, or think about what decision you’d make if you found yourself in a similar situation in real life. My natural reaction however is very analytical: I think about the possible outcomes of each available option and then select the one that’s most likely to lead to the best ending.

Do I consider that fun? As sad as it sounds, the majority of time the answer is yes. Being that logical fits well with my nature and I can find comfort in it after a day at work. However, that’s not always the case and sometimes the pressure described above can be quite draining. After a long commute home and with limited time in the evenings, the temptation to resort to a walkthrough in order to achieve the good conclusion to a title is ever present and this does nothing except ultimately spoil what could be a great title.

Many gamers perceive both the ability to make decisions that matter and multiple endings as important factors in making a good video game. They want their choices to affect the story in a meaningful way so the outcome they reach just before the end credits is unique to their path through a title. I can understand that: such mechanics can help create a much more personal experience, and help a player to see themselves as the protagonist rather than watching their journey from afar.

But for a perfectionist, there’s something positive to be said for linear narratives. Knowing your decisions won’t have any unintended negative effects because you’re ultimately going to arrive at the same end point as everyone else can be liberating. The pressure to reach the best possible conclusion is removed; all you need to do it sit back, drive the narrative forward through gameplay at your own pace, and experience the plot as the developer wanted to tell it.

I do worry that I’m missing out though. Some stories were made for linear paths while others need to take on a more fluid form in order to be told effectively, and trying to force them to fit into a best-ending track could mean they lose the essence that makes them special. It means that sometimes I have jump into an open-ended game while trying my hardest to push those perfectionist thoughts to one side, and pick whatever decision most appeals at the time without over-analysing it. But it doesn’t come naturally.

I’d be interested to hear from gamers who don’t consider themselves perfectionists. Do you still feel the effect of perfect-ending-pressure and if so, how do you deal with it? And if you are perfectionist: do you dig out the walkthroughs too?

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

20 thoughts on “Perfect ending pressure Leave a comment

  1. Interest analysis. Largely yes, do aim for the best ending and usually try and ‘game’ the game for example the upgrades and loyalty quests in Mass Effect 2 which boost your odds on them surviving. That said, I do feel it requires you to care or feel invested in the narrative.

    When I started Until Dawn, in very short order I realised I really wasn’t connecting to the cast, that’s the polite version. Subsequently the life and death choices wasn’t driven by perfectionism lol

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    • That’s a good point and one I didn’t consider when drafting this post. If you can relate to the characters and want to see where their journey takes them, I guess you’re more likely to want to achieve the best ending for them. I’m thinking now about all the games I haven’t enjoyed that have had multiple endings… and I think for a lot of them, I’ve resorted to a walkthrough to get to the credits as quickly as possible. 🤔

      Until Dawn was a bit of a weird one for me. It was hard trying to make the ‘best’ decisions because it was never clear what their consequences would be; and after a while, I stopped caring about them anyway because I didn’t like most of the characters! Except for Chris, I wanted to save him. 😉

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  2. I certainly don’t go for the perfect ending. In the ‘closing stages’ of Fallout 4 I shot the main antagonist right in the middle of a poignant speech they were making… After many hours of gameplay I’d had enough, and it just felt like the right thing to do.

    … What I struggle with more is acting out of charter. I make my decisions based on what I think I’d do as that character in that situation (if you see what I mean?). Sometimes I’ve wanted to go back and do a particular style of play through, but just can’t ever seem to follow through with it.

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    • I’m not surprised to hear this at all! That’s the impression you get when watching your streams: you’re living the character and want to react to a situation how they would. It’s not a bad thing though because it makes it more entertaining for us viewers. 😀

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  3. Depends on the game. Many Japanese titles, which as you know are the ones I tend to gravitate towards, encourage repeat playthroughs for multiple endings or completely different routes through the story, and I would feel like I hadn’t truly beaten the game if I hadn’t seen them all. Thankfully, the vast majority of games like this feature dialogue or scene skip options, allowing you to fast-forward through scenes you’ve already seen, stopping at key decision points or previously unseen dialogue to allow you to make different choices and catch things you hadn’t seen before.

    This is usually also combined with a New Game+ mode where you can carry over various things from last time around, making it considerably easier and quicker to blitz through and get another ending or route. For example, an RPG that took 50-100 hours first time around can sometimes be blasted out in 2 or 3 with dialogue skipping and New Game+ bonuses from the second time onwards, putting it much more within reach.

    In the specific case of visual novels, it’s *essential* to play all the routes to get a full understanding of the story, as different routes tend to provide different perspectives on the characters, meaning you’ll only get a full understanding and appreciation of the setting and narrative if you read all of it. Again, though, you can always skip dialogue and scenes you’ve previously seen.

    I don’t play Western RPGs much any more as I’ve come to realise that they don’t really scratch my personal gaming itches, but when I did, I tended to feel less inclined to do repeat playthroughs. When I first played Dragon Age: Origins, for example, I was initially tempted to play it through multiple times with all the different origin stories, but by the time I got to the end the prospect of doing that was just too exhausting to even contemplate.

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    • Dammit, knew I’d forget to mention something!

      If I know I’m going to do multiple playthroughs, I’ll do my first one “blind” without a walkthrough, making instinctive choices to see what will happen. From thereon, I’ll look up the specific means of getting other endings/routes and take specific aim for one at a time on subsequent runs.

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    • Here’s a question for you: with regard to those RPGs which take plenty of hours to complete, how eager are you to go back in for another playthrough? Does the fact it will only take a few hours to get a different ending encourage you to do so?

      I find it really hard myself. Once the credits are rolled on a game, generally I’m done with it; I might go back to it at some point far in the future but it’s rare I can go straight into a second run.

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      • If I like the characters and the setting, I’m often more than happy to jump back in immediately. The knowledge that it will take only a couple of hours for another runthrough certainly helps, though; for example, I haven’t done a New Game+ run through any of the Xenoblade Chronicles games despite loving them, because I know that will still take a very long time.

        In my case, part of the consideration is whether or not I’m writing about it, and if I’m playing it, I’m usually writing about it! With that in mind, I always want to be as thorough as possible so I can write from a fully informed perspective; nothing is worse than writing something and having someone come along and go “actually, if you saw the other ending you’d know that [x]”.

        The structure of the games in question also helps, too; there are a lot of RPGs out there with substantial “postgame” content, so the credits rolling often doesn’t mean “the end” at all. Becoming familiar with this convention helps with motivation for subsequent playthroughs, for sure; it just feels like a continuation rather than “starting over”.

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        • Ah, I didn’t consider that aspect when drafting this post: review writing. I don’t do them often but if I’m feeling in the mood, I’ll make sure I’ve played a game fully – or, if I just can’t bring myself to do so, I’ll make it clear that I didn’t complete every ending and give the reasons why. I guess I’m fortunate in that there aren’t frequent alternative endings in the sort of adventure games I enjoy!

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  4. Definitely yes and no 😁 I always really want the best ending but the problem with some games is that how you achieve that isn’t always obvious and I’ll never look stuff up because the most important part of my enjoyment is playing it naturally without any idea of what’s coming next.

    A friend of mine, who is, shall we say, just a wee bit more of a perfectionist than me, told me a story about her play through of the Witcher 3, in which she was absolutely set on getting the best ending and made her decisions carefully to achieve this but ended up getting the worst ending because she misunderstood what were ‘good’ and ‘bad’ decisions.

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    • Ah I’ve been there too! There have been a few games where I’ve felt like I’ve been doing the ‘right’ thing all along, then I end up kicking myself when someone gets hurts or something bad happens as a result. It doesn’t sit well with my inner perfectionist! 😅

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  5. Thanks for the shoutout! It’s funny because now, as I’m starting to round out another playthough of Mass Effect 2, I find that I am putting a *little* pressure on myself to reach the ending where I save all my crewmates. (I’m feeling I’ll probably get close to that, but that someone will still probably die…which only gives me all the more reason to try again, someday!) One of the ways I force my hand in sticking with my choices is that I don’t create multiple saves, that way I have to commit to a particular path. It also takes away the temptation of replaying over replays.

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    • Ouch, no multiple saves? That’s so brave ha ha! This isn’t something I’ve ever done before but I’ll admit, I’m kind of intrigued… I’m wondering whether it would change my play-style at all. 🤔

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        • I found out a few weeks ago that the original Mass Effect was available on my other-half’s Game Pass, so I really want to line this one up for our charity streams in January. Who knows, I might end up doing it with only one save file! 😀

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  6. It depends on the game, but I do occasionally play a game again for a different ending. The Witcher 3 happened in reverse though: got my favorite ending the first time, then bungled up the second one!

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      • I continue to debate going back for number 3…because if I play again, it will be ANOTHER 100 hours with DLC because I have no self control 🤣 I’d like to wait and play again when i have a bigger, better TV

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        • The last time I sunk over 100 hours into a game was with Horizon Zero Dawn. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to do the same with any game since – it’s a really daunting prospect! It would be nice to get sucked into something that much for the Christmas period though… I need to find myself some new RPGs, I think. 🤔

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