How many video games do you see through to completion?
A paper which investigated this subject was published in the Entertainment Computing journal in August 2019. Using a sample of 725 releases on Steam selected for their single-player achievements, it found that an average of only 14% of gamers finish those they start.
There were positive correlations between completion rates and several other factors including the number of players, user ratings and price. Most interesting for me was the fact that genre turned out to be a significant predictor of how many people would finish a title. The completion rate for adventures was 18% – higher than any other type and more than the overall average above.
A few years ago, I made a resolution to reach the end of more video games I played. Not recording the data means I’m unable to prove whether I’ve achieved this (something to analyse next year perhaps) but it certainly feels like it. I’m more mindful of not giving up so quickly nowadays and will persevere with a release unless it’s really not worth spending my time on.
There’s one adventure series I haven’t been able to finish yet though. This isn’t down to some immediately obvious reason: it’s not because I don’t have the time, or I’m too busy with other titles or I don’t enjoy it. In fact, it includes one my favourite point-and-clicks and is the example I usually give when discussing storytelling through video games. You may have heard me talk about this during our recent Twitch streams and today, I’m going to try to give a full explanation.
The photograph opposite shows me with Ragnar Tørnquist and Martin Bruusgaard from Red Thread Games. I had the pleasure of meeting them during a developer session at the Rezzed expo in June 2013 where they gave a progress update on Dreamfall Chapters. I’d fallen in love with the story after playing The Longest Journey in April 2006 shortly after the release of sequel Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, and became a backer for the third instalment when the Kickstarter campaign was launched in February 2013.
I explained in a post last month that Island of Secrets made me truly appreciate The Secret of Monkey Island when I found it, and this in turn led me to seek out other point-and-clicks. It was The Longest Journey then that showed me what video games could really achieve. It told the epic tale of a quest to restore the Balance between the parallel universes of magical Arcadia and technological Stark, through characters who were inspiring and fought for what they believed in.
To this day, no other adventure series has managed to capture my attention in the same way. I still hold the opinion that these releases are some of the finest examples of gaming narratives. Rather than share an individual and contained story in each instalment, everything is connected in ways which aren’t obvious at first. Separate elements which appear unconnected are eventually weaved together in a way where it slowly dawns on you just how significate they were.
The Longest Journey’s central character, April Ryan, has so many more layers than the 18-year-old who doesn’t know what to do with her life she initially portrays (a good subject for a future post). And series’ protagonist Zoë Castillo was different to a lot of other female characters around at the same time. She didn’t simply accept what was happening or wait for a hero to come to the rescue – she became the hero by questioning these events and then realising she must do something to stop them.
But I can’t tell you how their story ends. I don’t know if Zoë is still alive and happy, and if she managed to achieve all she set out to do. I have a vague idea of what happened to April but there are still many questions left unanswered. And I can’t say where assassin Kian Alvane and best-sidekick-ever Crow ended up. Did they all manage to work together to restore the Balance between the two worlds? And what was the fate of Arcadia and Stark, and everyone within them?
I haven’t been able to bring myself to finish the series and find out. My Steam profile shows I’ve played over 23 hours of Dreamfall Chapters so far but still haven’t reached completion. It’s kind of hard to put the reason for this into words and explain it in a way which will make sense to others: it’s because once I finish the final instalment, the series will be over. The thought of it ending gives me a sad, melancholic feeling because it’s difficult to envisage any other games filling the same hole as perfectly.
Red Thread Games had planned to make a direct sequel to The Longest Journey if their Kickstarter campaign reached $2 million, sharing what had happened to April during the 10-year gap unaccounted for in Dreamfall. Sadly, this stretch goal wasn’t reached. Tørnquist wrote in a forum post in June 2016: “It’s satisfying but heart-breaking, and part of me would love to jump right into The Longest Journey Home to tell a personal and soulful story about a character I care deeply about… but for many, many reasons I don’t think it will happen.”
A few years later in January 2022, he started a Twitter thread about the follow-up and said: “I hope we get to make The Longest Journey Home at some point. The ideas we have for this game really excite me: aesthetically, mechanically, emotionally and narratively… But, sadly, Red Thread doesn’t hold the rights to the series, and this concept may never see the light of day. That won’t stop us from dreaming, writing, drawing and tinkering with the concept, however. And maybe someday, we can all embark on our longest journey home.”
If it happened for Ron Gilbert with the Monkey Island franchise in 2022, perhaps it could happen for Tørnquist in 2023? I hope Funcom is playing close attention and there’s another update soon. While we wait, I’m going to take the advice that friend-of-the-blog Darkshoxx gave me when he streamed Dreamfall Chapters last year. I began playing The Longest Journey again on Twitch last Saturday, with a view to working through the series and finally making it to the end one day soon.
Of course, I’ll be sad when it’s over. But I think it’s time to find out what happened to April, Zoë and the rest of the gang. Wish me luck.