Tuesday, 18 October 2011

But I Digress | The Sense of an Ending

Don't worry: I'm not talking about the Booker. Why would I bother? It is what it is, and it's fine that it's that. I just can't bring myself to care one way or the other, really.

What I can bring myself to care about... well, you folks must know by now that video games are another of my many and various interests, alongside books and movies and comics and all the other things I devote the free time I have to. You could even say that video games are a passion of mine; and if I wouldn't go quite so far myself - the medium is after all still in its infancy, and rarely so artful as to inspire such adulation - then it is getting there... slowly but surely.

So around and about the video game community - which for me begins with Giant Bomb and ends, at a stretch, with Kotaku - a recent article, reported on both sites, caused something of a clamour that's fascinated me since: an article which alleged that video game developers can only count on approximately 10% of their players to actually finish their game.

I can believe it, too.

And I wonder, how different are the numbers as regards reading?

Are authors any better off? Because the time investments required by authors and developers are essentially very similar. Say it takes somewhere in the region of six to ten hours to finish a typical video game; reading at a rate of one page per minute - as I tend to - the 400-odd sides of a standard novel take roughly the same period of time to read.

Now I'm going to need your help here, folks, because I'm a bit of a basket case as regards books: I finish virtually everything I start, in some cases even if I'm hating every minute of the experience. Only rarely do I put a book down, since if I'm going to express my opinion about a thing, which invariably I am, I'd really rather express a complete and informed opinion than a vague and disingenuous attempt at one. Not to point the finger or anything...

Anyway, I don't need you all to tell me that my stubborn dedication to a book, for good or for ill, is normal. I know it's not. What I want to know is, in general, are readers a more patient species than gamers? Because I think we are.

Say over the course of a month (or really however long) you start ten different novels. How many do you finish? How many do you abandon? What causes you to give up on something? Or are you a completist weirdo like me?


  1. Completist weirdo, check. I've not finished maybe a dozen books in my life, and that's with me getting *worse* in recent years. Two DNFs in the last two years.

    In the last 8 weeks, I've read 12 paperbacks and finished them all. Okay, 8 were re-reads to catch up a series, but whatever. It is very, very rare that I don't finish what I've started.

  2. I think it's two different situations.

    With a book, I might read a couple of pages and just give up because I don't like the style or I'm just not feeling it. I might read a few chapters and, with an example being the Windup Girl, put it down in disgust and walk away. That's common for me with books - I can get put off really easily.

    With games, though, I tend to just not finish them anyway. I get distracted by another game, or I'll just stop playing, or I'll get bored and do something else, or perhaps the game just doesn't sit well with me. A lot of games, for me, are much bigger investments than books. A book might take 4-6 hours to read, perhaps longer, but many games that I play take 10, 15, 20, 30, 50, 60+ hours if they can even be completed at all.

    I also think that games are something I tend to restart more than books. If I leave a game for a year and come back, chances are I'll just start again. A book I could put down for a few months and come back to it without having to start again, because I don't have to "relearn" it, as largely everything that happened before comes back quickly.

  3. Add me to the completist weirdo list. Since I've been taking stock through Goodreads, there's only three books I haven't finished and I can't remember any other books before that (2009) that I didn't finish.

    I am one of those people who don't finish games however. Or rather it depends on what kind of games. I used to play a lot of those mindless flash games such as Diner Dash etc. and I mostly finished those. I played The Sims, Sims 2 and Sims 3, but those are sort of endless games so not really finishable. And I played lots of Baldur's Gate, Baldur's Gate II, Icewind Dale and Neverwinter Nights. While I did finish Baldur's Gate, with a strenth 15 fighter (I didn't understand D&D at the time) don't ask me how! I never finished BGII, IWD or NWN. Typically because I'd stop playing for a while and then I'd start over from scratch, much like Kathryn.

    So I think your supposition that readers are more patient than gamers might be correct, or perhaps the media are just completely different.

  4. Just realised I've probably skewed your sample: I'm not a gamer. They just don't do it for me - plus, I can buy like five books for the price of one game...

  5. Not at all, Elspeth! I'm certainly interested to hear from those folks who pursue both books and games in their free time, but the video game connection was largely just a way of approaching the question as it pertains to reading habits.

  6. Meanwhile, on Twitter Martin Lewis (@nine_below) pointed out I think a very salient fact: that in literature, "Have you ever heard someone say they couldn't get past an end of chapter boss?"

    And I haven't, no... not strictly speaking. But we've been reading forever; most all of us know how - whether we choose to do so on a regular basis or not - whereas gaming is a newer medium, and the skillset's that much less of a given, though of course it's on the rise. It follows, then, that 20 or 50 years from now, the percentage of people who complete the games they play will have increased substantially.

    But you know, I don't think that'll be the case. I think there's something more at play here...

    Can any of you think of a time where you've encountered the equivalent of an impassable end of chapter boss in a book?

    What comes immediately to my mind is the point at which I realised Neal Asher's latest novels was in fact all about politics I disagree with. I mean, I beat The Departure eventually, but I certainly considered putting that book down unfinished - a rare thing for me, as aforementioned - albeit not because I was unable to progress.

  7. I'm kind of a completionist weirdo myself, but only with certain things, it seems. I used to be terrible at starting things and never finishing them. I couldn't tell you how many half-finished books were on my shelves, and how many more books I'd buy in spite of that. Funny enough, starting to bookblog actually helped cut down on that a lot. Now I rarely leave a book unfinished, even if it may take my months to get through because it's so terrible. Though I'm not the kind of person who feels that a person isn't allowed to express an opinion of a book they didn't finish (why they didn't finish it might say a lot about the book, after all), I do feel somewhat honour-bound to at least give it my all, and to finish what I can so that I can give a fair review.

    My video game collection is in worse shape that my novel collection. I think I've beaten maybe a handful of games, yet own dozens. This is partly due to me getting to the point just before the final boss and going, "But I don't want the game to end!" Thus I stop playing it, my twisted logic telling me that if I don't beat it, in some way, the game hasn't ended yet.

    Hmm, maybe I should start reviewing video games as well as books. That way I might be able to finish more games, too...

  8. I have to be very careful about what I choose to read because I suffer from crippling attacks of DNF guilt. I can hear the author berating me for being such a weakling and giving up on something that they sweated and sacrificed to produce. Yeah, I'm weird alright. It should come as no surprise to hear that I've only abandoned a couple of books in my reading life and given that I get through a book a day, that's not too bad... or it's OCD. Whatever.

  9. I'm weird when it comes to reading. In a given month I might start ten books, but only finish five or so. I read several books simultaneously, and I jump books every few days or so to keep my reading fresh, regardless of whether I've finished it or not, and come back to it maybe a couple of weeks later. Still, I only rarely leave a book unfinished, even when it's bad (I read The Law of Nines by Terry Goodkind all the way through just so I could critique his writing style from an informed perspective).

  10. I'm one of those that suck at finishing games - it's not that I run into a hard part and give up, or don't enjoy games, it's more that I have a very hard time picking them back up after putting them down. It doesn't help that I'm not a huge fan of shooters (which are typically short, and the type of game you can finish in 2-3 sittings), so I end up playing huge RPGs and strategy games...

    On the book front, I do try to finish everything I read. Of the handful or two of books I've ever not completed, most of them are on my 're-read in a few years' pile (Pynchon especially - I think half my pile is by him).

    The big difference for me, I think, is that I can rip through a book pretty quickly, and I find them easier to pick up again after taking a week-long break.

  11. I read and I play games. I can't remember a game which I finished. I mostly leave games before the final boss fight. For me the journey is the reward.
    I play mostly huge RPG and adventure games and Jump and Runs.

    I checked my GOODREADS shelf. Since 2008 I did not finish two books!!
    That means I finish nearly every book. For me reading is like eating. Without you can survive for a period of time ....

  12. Marduk/An0mand3r Rak319 October 2011 at 02:31

    It seems the general consensus, here at least, is that it would be weird to not finish books! I read one book at a time (with maybe a random short story thrown in on the weekend) and always read from start to finish. I think this is partly due to the fact that since the advent of blogging it's a lot easier to read reviews/previews of books and get a good idea of what books you might like - hence I really only have time to read books that I will probably like. In the past few years there have only been a handful of books I didn't really enjoy and I read about one a week so yeah I tend to finish them all.

    Gaming - over the past couple of years I've really got back into gaming and if I really like the game will finish it for sure, often before jumping into the online multiplayer experience. Maybe this is due to my preferred style, FPS, so it's generally pretty cool to go from start to finish in games like BF and COD and Halo... that being said if I am not enjoying it it's pretty easy to just drop it and never play it again (I haven't really gotten into Bioshock, and can't quite work out why... maybe because I am playing on Hard and it's so easy to get killed!) I occasionally keep try again though, but then a new game comes along and you forget the old ones (Batman Arkham City I'm looking at you!)

  13. I'm pretty good about finishing books and really bad about finishing games.

    With books I take care to research each potential title and generally have a good idea of whether or not I'll like a book, however, I do occasionally run into problems and have to put a book down...too much good stuff out there to waste time reading something I don't like.

    With games, my struggle lately is that I have very little time for playing video games, and don't typically have the spare time to sink an hour or so into beating a level, or getting to the next save point. This means I take a really looooong time to beat a game, which is good for the wallet, but I often get bored of a game by playing it in small chunks.

  14. I finish almost everything I start reading (some are so ancient that they may be considered abandoned, but I don't necessarily judge them abandoned). The difference with games for me may be the techincal aspect. Sure, there is often a beginning and an end, but what happens inbetween is very much an assemblage of parts, of gameplay-elements, standard procedures, restrictions, emptinesses, textures and objects. That all is easily recognisable as a simplistic means to an end, their cold copy-and-paste program code nature, so that if some of it doesn't strike me as attractive or worthwile, I usually don't bother seeing the end of it (or buying it in the first place).