What Does It Mean To Beat A Game, Anyway?

You get to define your own rules

What Does It Mean To Beat A Game, Anyway?
Source: Pure Xbox.

I have recently been playing Elden Ring and have really enjoyed my time with it (haven’t we all?). I’ve got no further takes on the game that haven't been said already - it’s a tremendous achievement that deserves all the plaudits and sales that are coming Fromsoft’s way. Like many others, this is the first Souls game that has really drawn me in. In the past I’ve played Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and even the original Demon’s Souls. Each time I ended up wanting to hurl the game disc out my window like a discus, then at a later date was persuaded to try again, only to wonder whether the trade-in value was worth seeing how aerodynamic a Blu-Ray can be.

Mild spoilers ahead for Elden Ring.

‌At no point in my 65 hours in Elden Ring did I consider flinging my disc off the balcony. Well, not until the final story boss - which is actually two bosses. I was using a pure mage build that was made to melt bosses with an all-powerful blast of my Comet Azur, enhanced by my Flask of Wondrous Physick. Problem is, that flask trick only works once a fight - not that it really worked on the second fight - the giant yet swift Elden Beast, complete with a huge battlefield to move around in. I tried dozens of times, taking breaks to level up, finding new spells to try and perfect the first half of the fight, but I felt like my time was ending with this game, and I didn’t want to end on a sour note.

‌‌Would it be so bad if I didn’t beat Elden Ring? Does anyone really care? I mean, what does it mean to beat a game anyway?

Briefly the bane of my existence. Source: Gamesradar.

What does it mean to beat a game?

This used to be a straightforward answer. You beat the levels and the bosses and boom - done. Well, I guess it wasn’t straightforward for arcade games. How do you beat Pac-Man? High score? Get to that 256th level where the game glitches out? It was mostly straightforward, even if the games themselves were often grossly unfair (I’m looking at you, childhood copy of Battletoads in Battlemaniacs for SNES). But even when difficulty levels became commonplace, the question still seemed relevant. Did you beat Halo 3 on easy, normal, or heroic (the ‘way Halo is meant to be played.’) Of course, this is mostly about gatekeeping. Gaming lends itself to gatekeeping more than most mediums. Souls fans seem to be worse than most, in my experience. People want to wring the most enjoyment they can out of a game, so let them, whether that means making it easier or putting it down before their overriding memory of the game is a negative one.

Pac-Man's infamous 256th stage. Source: Pacman.fandom.

These days, most high-profile AAA games are massive. Massive budget, massive scope, massive size. They’ve grown over time, which is not unexpected, and people seem to like having a seemingly infinite amount of small tasks to complete; boxes to tick off on their map and their mission tracker, numbers going up. I get it - many people only buy a few games a year and want to get the most out of them. But most people don’t actually finish the games they play. Maybe they simply don't want to, or don’t have the time, or perhaps something newer and shinier comes along. Note that when I say 'complete', I'm referring to the generally-accepted definition involving completion of a final story/campaign and rolling credits.

Only 10% of players finish a game once they start. You can see this by looking at how many players get the trophy for completing that final mission. To use a couple of examples from the premier overstuffer of open-world games - Ubisoft - 20.3% of Xbox players finished Far Cry 6 and only 8.7% completed Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. I wonder if these kinds of stats are taken into account by the heads of AAA developers, or if the endings are there because the main story has to have a payoff at some point. In the end, as long as you pay your money and have a good time, they’re probably happy. And you should be, too.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla. Source: Ubisoft.

I ended up rolling credits on Elden Ring. I felt a big surge of adrenaline when I laid the final blow. I did it - I beat a Souls game. But did I need to beat that double-whammy boss to get that feeling? I could have artificially determined my own end point. In fact, I had done this several times over the course of Elden Ring. I kind of assumed I would get stuck eventually. I experienced the feeling of 'beating' a Souls game well before it technically ended; it's not like I had to prove a point to anyone. Actually, I thought of this story concept before succeeding in beating Elden Ring. I was planning on coming here and saying 'who cares if you can't beat Elden Ring - or any other game - it really doesn't matter, just play until you stop having fun.'

I lived bitch. Source: Author.

Actually, that message still stands. Who cares if you can't beat Elden Ring or any other game? It really doesn't matter. Just play until you stop having fun.


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