Two gamers were chatting on the bus. One was boasting about having managed to finally overcome every last obstacle and finish some video game.
Finishing a game.
It’s always a bit weird to hear, as much as it feels strange to think, that there are games that just end, that one can complete. And that there are so many of them.
But what kind of abuse must be done to a game to make it finite, non-renewable? So that it is no longer useful, pleasant, or even possible to play it again?
You have spent hours, days, weeks ramping up your skills, scrutinizing every corner of elaborate virtual worlds, stripping them of all their treasures, overcoming every obstacle they throw at you, avoiding all their traps and learning every maneuver. You have fought the same battles countless times, overcoming always bigger, stronger, more numerous enemies.
Then the game stops.
Oh, of course, there is a final scene; everything’s done with due decorum. The game congratulates you for having reached the summit, the apotheosis. You are crowned champion of the game. But still the story has concluded, the game has come to an end.
Just as you’ve reached the top level of your expertise, the game slips away and disappears.
It could have postponed its own conclusion and confronted you with yet one more challenge (but then, why not keep it for the upcoming sequel they’ll try to sell you). But for now, the game has nothing more to offer you, it is depleted, exhausted.
Sorry, it says—it was fun while it lasted, but this is as far as it goes.
End of the line, everybody out.
Looks a lot like a dead end, doesn’t it.
Your only way out is back. Either to start over and follow more or less the same storyline, without much surprise, tension, expectation. Or to go and buy yet another game. And engage in yet another adventure. A brand new dead end.
I have long thought—and still do—that the current popularity of board games could be explained partly by a reaction to the general dematerialization of our modern world. Compared to most of our digital, virtual lives, just spending more than 10 minutes sitting at a real table, in the company of real-life players, playing a real game made of real pieces, has become an exotic, sought-after experience.
But perhaps do we also seek, through this tabletop gaming craze, to get away from the grip of those games-that-end. To free our minds from the skillfully veiled rigidity of those disposable, throw-away adventures.
At the table as well as on the screen, single-use games will always have their place. But the fact remains that possibly the greatest strength of tabletop games, whether they be European or American style, historical or war games, lies with the ease with which they can be nondeterministic, how fluent they are in uncertainty.
Inexhaustibility is their default attribute.
A handful of pieces, a few pages of rules, of which we can spend all our time, alone or with others, competing or collaborating, exploring the potential of the endless combinations.
A handful of pieces, a few pages of rules, and infinity is made available to everyone.
Over here the only things that end are gaming sessions. Never the games themselves.