Knowing When to Move On

Several years ago, when this site was under a different name, I offered a post about that moment when you and a game click. I looked at the subject from two different angles: “love at first play” and building a relationship with a game over time. In either scenario, an assumption remains that said game will be finished. That you’ll experience everything the game has to offer, and once its credits roll, it will be time to make a new bond with a new game.

But what if that game that you’ve loved or grown to love is purposefully put on hold? 

In my article from last week, I touched upon the fact that within the past few years I’ve found it more and more difficult to actually finish games. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when this trend started, but it’s been at least since I joined Steam and the introduction of the current generation of consoles. One of the more recent causalities in this regard has been The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Here’s just a handful of other games that are on my “not finished” list:

The Witcher 1 and 2
The Last of Us
Metroid Prime
The Lost Odyssey
Final Fantasy XIII-2
GTA: Vice City
The Walking Dead

This is just from memory, so there are likely others. And now, I must add Red Dead Redemption II.

Part of me places RDRII on the list with a heavy heart, but a larger part of me knows that it’s just time to move on.

Now, with some of the games on my list, we simply didn’t click. Reus, a world-building game, just wasn’t my thing. Final Fantasy XIII-2 proved that I’m not as big a Final Fantasy fan as I once might have been. Stacking was quite interesting at first, and then it grew to be something quite uninteresting.

Could be that I have developed a terrible attention span.

But I digress.

The question here is not about liking or not liking games the games we choose to play, rather it’s how do you know when it’s time to move on regardless?

With RDRII, it came down to a timeframe: one month. After my second impressions post, I didn’t touch the game for one month. This was not a conscious choice, it was simply the span of time that went by before I felt like I had enough time and was in the right frame of mind to return to the game. And when I did return, I…well…I didn’t have a very good time. I managed to complete another minute percentage of Arthur Morgan’s story, which turned out to be little more than yet another sidestep that again questioned Morgan’s loyalties, and that was that. Upon turning off the game, I decided that it was officially time to move on, reasons being (1) I no longer enjoyed the game’s slow progression, and (2) I had grown weary of how much Dutch Van der Linde’s predictability drove Arthur Morgan’s own story. (In hindsight, taking time to explore RDRII’s open world might have been a good option to help see things through rather than totally hanging up my saddle.)

Putting RDRII’s game disc away made me think a little about that “one month.” Because I realized that this timeframe played heavily into my many of my unfinished titles. And this actually provided me with a little comfort. Maybe one month was really my own litmus test. If I could not pick up an in-progress game after a one-month break, then maybe a longer break was required. More importantly, a longer, guilt-free break. While I still experience guilty pangs for stopping Breath of the Wild, primarily because I know I’m not far from its credit sequence (same still goes for Final Fantasy VII, by the way), I have none for RDRII. In fact, I feel good for letting go. Its weight has been lifted, and I’m free.

And it means I can, perhaps, work on rekindling some old friendships, starting with the lone wanderer I deserted in Fallout 4.

None of this is to say that I think either RDRII or Breath of the Wild or any of my unfinished games are “bad” games, because they certainly aren’t. These days, we, as video game players, are bombarded with a million and one great games to play, every day, all the time. As the games around us evolve into ever larger and ever more enveloping experiences, knowing (learning?) when to move on from them is key to preventing exhaustion. It’s one thing to say if you don’t enjoy the game then don’t play it. But it’s another to take control of our habits that we don’t end up washing away into the ocean of playing only for the sake of play. I don’t want to finish RDRII just so I can say I finished the game. I want to finish RDRII because I enjoyed it, became immersed in it, and became a part of Arthur Morgan’s story. While now may be the time to move on, I’m sure that the time will occur again when I know it’s right to return.

Are you comfortable with taking extended breaks from the games that you love, or do you prefer to power through games from start to finish no matter what?

Lede image [© Rockstar Games (2018)] was captured by the author on the PS4 during gameplay.


  1. Geddy says:

    Funny that this popped up on my feed today. I just managed to finish Okami this morning actually, after taking a break from what turned out to be the last ~2 hours, for about a month and a half. And I loved every second of it prior to that, but today I just wanted it to be in the “done” pile.

    I thought about this a lot, I logged ~24 hours in about 2 weeks in Okami, which is a ton of time for me to log in a single game these days. But, alas, even the best theme park rides need to end, and “too long” is definitely a possibility.

    Part of the issue stems from me looking at big games as some grand undertaking, rather than a fun thing that will take me a while to do. Every minute I spend doing _anything_ I run through a strict mental regimin to make sure it’s truly something I want to take on in my life with limited time. I’ve learned to live with not playing most games, lately it’s been revisiting tons of great Gamecube and PS2 games, all of which are max-10 hours. I’ve completed 2 games in 2 weeks and never once felt pressure to play them, because of how short they actually were. I plan to continue this for a while! No more “playing for the sake of playing” as you put it.

    Speaking specifically to your predicament, I noticed the games you listed are fairly massive, minus a few of them. Maybe going a little easier and picking some quick sub-10 hour games will prevent you from feeling like you are taking on a monumental task?

    You mentioned Breath of the Wild – right around 30 hours or so I got to the same point: “ok, this is cool but how much longer?” Same thing happened with Fallout 4 a few years back, and more recently with Pokemon Let’s Go, neither of which I have an inkling of desire to go back to.

    It’s like a long road trip – sure the scenery might be pretty, but ultimately, we want to get where we’re going!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Glad you finished Okami! It’s interesting how our perceptions of time evolve over time. Like, when you were a kid, and week-long vacation seemed to last forever. Now they fly by and are hardly “vacations!”

      Y’know, at one point, I had gotten pretty good about shuffling between long games and short ones, and it made me feel like I was actually progressing, getting through my backlog, and such. No hassles, no pressure. And then I started Breath of the Wild (early last year), and I was back to old habits. I could tell things weren’t going so well by the time I defeated the fourth divine beast; I was not looking forward to the end game. It’s been months since then, and though I just want the game in the “done” pile, I’ve no desire to do what needs to be done to put it there.

      I love your analogy about the road trip, because it’s so true! The ride can be great and all, but the destination is what counts. It can be hard, as an adult gamer, to find that perfect middle ground between enjoying the trip and getting to the destination in a timely matter.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rob says:

    I have a really hard time dropping games sometimes, to the point where I’ll basically just stop playing anything rather than admit I’m not going to finish something, which then makes me hesitant to pick up larger games in case I end up in that place. Not a very healthy cycle for a hobby. I’ve been making an effort lately to stop doing this and just enjoy my games, but yeah it’s a hard thought-process to break.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Yeah, I get it. After I quit BotW, I was really hesitant to start playing something else. I was so grumpy, too, because it felt like I was letting myself down. I kept questioning, “why?” Why the heck couldn’t I finish the game? I had to let the question go eventually, if only for the sake of my sanity. There are bigger things to worry about than Calamity Ganon, after all. 🙂 Plus, it’s good to step back from our habits every now and again to figure out what’s working and what’s not. But it ain’t easy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hatm0nster says:

    I used to be someone who always had to power through a game to the end before starting a new one. That changed sometime during college. Now I think there’s nothing wrong with taking a break, or even just leaving a game unfinished if it becomes more chore than fun. Don’t have free time to waste on games that aren’t fun, you know? That said, for games that I really like, I’ll set some sort of stopping point for myself that I must reach before leaving it (where that point is depends on the game).

    Example: Been playing Hollow Knight during my game time for the last month or so (outside of pick up and play stuff w/ friends), I’m nowhere near getting everything or even starting the DLC, but am ready to move on nonetheless. So, I’ve set my stopping point at beating the first secret final boss, since it represents where the game originally ended and getting to it involved using everything I learned over the course of the game. I feel like I’ll have experienced everything important that Hollow Knight has to offer after beating that boss. DLC stuff isn’t essential this time around. As for other games like Anthem, just finishing the critical story path would be enough I think. Won’t lose any sleep walking away from it after that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Goal-setting, nice! I really should have done that with Red Dead Redemption II, come to think of it. It would have likely have made the return transition smoother.

      I’m completely onboard with the notion of taking a break from games that you just aren’t enjoying, and then not feeling bad for doing so. The completionist attitude isn’t for everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with completing a game to the point where you feel like you’ve gotten out of it everything it can offer you, even if that leaves the game unfinished. And who knows, maybe it’ll offer up some surprises when you come back to it later! As long as you’re happy with leaving things as is, that’s all that matters.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    How do you know when it’s time to move on from your unfinished games? To put them aside without feeling pangs of guilt and/or remorse? I offered up my best answers to these burning questions recently on Virtual Bastion.


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