When is it okay to walk away from a game?

"Surrender is a perfectly acceptable alternative in extreme circumstances!" That defeatist line was blurted out by the master of human-cyborg relations himself, C-3PO, when he and his cohorts were backed into a corner. And despite his panicked cowardice in that moment, I think the golden droid had a pretty good point. I don't typically think of myself as a quitter; I'll give most any game the benefit of the doubt, whether it's seemingly terrible or notoriously rage-inducing. But as someone with an affinity for difficult games, Threepio's words ring true--particularly when challenge starts to eclipse fun. Then again, is there value to powering through the pain? Is it better to know your limits? And most importantly, when is it okay to walk away from a game?

All these questions raced through my mind while playing Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures, a game I ever-so-nearly finished despite hating it almost every step of the way. AVGN Adventures is designed to frustrate the player, in the hopes that you'll emulate the expletive-filled rants that the titular hero is best known for. The problem is, most of the levels are just as unenjoyable as the NES and Atari games they're mocking, with cheap deaths, sporadic checkpoint placement, and enemies that aren't fun to fight. All these downsides were pretty obvious from the get-go, but some deep-rooted masochistic impulse kept me playing, despite actively loathing every moment of the experience.

There's that old Smith and Dale sketch (thanks Google) that goes like so: Patient says "It hurts when I do this," and the doctor responds "Then don't do that!" If playing a game is too frustrating, stop playing it, right? But giving up--and make no mistake, that's what it is--discounts all the effort you put into getting as far as you did, making it feel like an utter waste. It seems like it'd be better to recognize the fact that you're not enjoying yourself and pull the ripcord as soon as possible, so you can move on to games that keep you engaged and satisfied from the get-go. 

However, the tactic of bailing out the moment you stop having fun seems to be inherently flawed. Former editor Tom Magrino recalls that he played Dishonored for an hour, wasn't really feeling it, and stopped playing (presumably for good). That means he'll never know the story twists, new powers, and amazing assassination techniques that only make themselves known later in the game. The way I see it, Tom missed out on my favorite game of 2012; his unwillingness to plow through a somewhat slow start deprived him of a great experience. On the other hand, we're not the same person--so maybe he made the right call, and wouldn't have enjoyed Dishonored the way I did.

And while some gamers adore the challenge of AVGN Adventures, I thought it was a miserable lesson in how not to make a hardcore platformer. With every death, I was forced to stare unamused at a randomly generated insult, the Nerd's disdain for the situation mirroring my own growing hatred. I trudged through level after level, never feeling satisfaction or excitement after any boss kill. Looking back, I don't know why I did it; perhaps I thought that beating AVGN Adventures would give me full authority to snub it, or provide some kind of proof that I was better than the game.

But when it came time to face the final boss--Fred Fucks, of course--I simply couldn't take it anymore. The encounter was everything I hate about bad boss design: relentless screen-filling attacks, no discernible pattern, a limited stock of lives, and the need to play the entire last level again if you fail. After 50 or so attempts, I was done. I'll never play AVGN Adventures again, despite confronting the last challenge on the road of frustrating hurdles that comprise the game.

And strangely, I felt an odd sense of guilt about that fact. I'm usually not one to back down from a video game challenge, and I think of frustration as a fleeting emotion not worth feeling. But when you're not having fun anymore, what's the point? That's why guides are forever popular: people want to get through tough sections as painlessly as possible, so they can get back to enjoying themselves. It's how Game Genie got to be so trendy back in the day (then again, there's little gratification in cheating your way to the end credits).

Until I become the Highlander, there's a limited amount of time I have on this world. And by that measure, pouring two hours of my finite life into the Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures was a waste of that time. But I think the game taught me a valuable lesson: Sometimes, you just need to be at peace with giving up, especially if it spares you additional grief. Upon banishing AVGNA from my hard drive, I hopped to YouTube, where I knew I could find the final cutscene I had been deprived of. And of course, it was a pathetic excuse for an ending--a slideshow revolving around a tired joke, told with recycled stills from the opening movie.

Was there any difference between watching that hideously awful finale after beating the last boss, and simply queuing it up on the Internet? No, I don't think so. Would finishing the game be its own reward? Not likely, because nothing about the experience had been enjoyable up to that point. It recalls a similar experience I had with Super Mario Galaxy 2--which, as a superbly well-made video game, is the polar opposite of AVGNA. After dozens of hours spent running and jumping, I had nabbed every last Green Star, but was incapable of completing the Grandmaster Galaxy. The pains I was taking to beat the last level--the heartbreak of dying to the very last Boomerang Bro on more than one attempt--threatened to erase all the delight and satisfaction I had getting there.

So yes, I watched the super secret grand ultra final ending online, and I don't regret doing so. No, I didn't earn the right to watch it--but in the grand scheme of things, who cares? The problem of a seemingly insurmountable challenge isn't restricted to bad or good games, be it AVGNA or SMG2. And playing either game to full completion simply wasn't worth it to me, regardless of what anyone else thinks. That's OK, because we play games to enjoy ourselves, not to appease others. Giving up is a good thing when soldiering on becomes a torturous ordeal. Had I finally managed to slay Fred Fucks, any feelings of satisfaction would be drowned by a sea of relief that my suffering was finally over. In that regard, quitting and beating the game became one and the same.

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  • Deth65 - April 3, 2014 11:50 p.m.

    I usually try to give all games a fair chance. I will play through the beginning of the game even if its slow in developing the story or the tutorial drags on forever....If I really dislike the game after a few hours I will trade it in or put it on the shelf in case someone wants to borrow it. Brink is the only game I purchased and returned the same day and I shelved Demon Souls after about a month of playing it.
  • Baz - February 27, 2014 1:31 p.m.

    if a game has game play that isn't fun but an intriguing story I'll finish it. take Bioshock Infintie as an example same old game play as the previous two games, but the sort of storyline and characters that make you want to view the events first hand. if a game has a shocking story and characters but has great game play I'd see it to completion or at the very least play it a lot i can't think of a personal example, but I know that some people don't complete missions on GTA. in fact I imagine more people didn't complete GTAV because the whole world was open from the start. the only time i stop playing a game is if i get bored of it or because it is literally unplayable. if the game loses my interest i will go back to it in the future. Also I wouldn't say dishonoured had a slow start but a long drawn out finish, it starts off perfectly paced, the plot gets set up, you get given your first powers and then you escape into the life of an assassin. my problem came with the flooded district mission. it was both rock hard and unimportant to the plot. you could have easily had Corvo wake up in the pit full of plague victims and go back to the pub from there. but instead it pulled the whole stripped of your equipment trope. and I'm pretty sure in one part of the mission they made stealth impossible specifically to piss me off.
  • rxb - February 8, 2014 7:11 a.m.

    Quitting a 'normal' game because you don' enjoy it is totally different [imho] to quitting a super hard game mode or a game made just to troll its players. As a rule I never quit unless I feel the challenge was way beyond my skill or just overly time consuming and point less.
  • Rub3z - February 5, 2014 7:01 p.m.

    My mind wanders back to that last challenge I never beat in Vanquish... 1 invisible, 1 hit-killing boss enemy 2 chaingun-wielding rocket-spamming enemies, also with 1 hit kill capabilities Multiple flying shotgun-wielding enemies And to top it all off, a flamethrower enemy that severely disrupts your ability to effectively dodge D: Not to mention that this perfect mix of frustratingly deadly enemies appears AFTER you've fought your way through 4 subsequent rounds of communist robot death. And this being challenge mode, if you die you have to restart the challenge from the very beginning, all over again. It takes at least 15 to 20 minutes of balls-to-the-wall fighting through the first four rounds to reach the final boss round above in the first place. For comparison, I'd say it's almost like fighting a few of the toughest bosses in Dark Souls in succession, then being pitted against those bosses you just fought again, all at the same time. It's an ample comparison because all the above enemies appear suddenly in rapid fire succession, and as soon as they spawn in they're bearing down on you. Think of what happens when all of the Four Kings are present in the Dark Souls boss fight. It's imperative you take each of them out quickly, but they're all closing in and attacking you so fast and so totally that if you begin to, say, put all your fire into those annoying shotgun enemies, it's impossible to account for the combined rocket and chaingun fire coming in fast, all the while the flamethrower guy is spewing everywhere, and finally you never know from which angle the invisible boss enemy is going to appear and attack you, killing you in one hit. It's total chaos.
  • VincentX - January 31, 2014 10:12 p.m.

    Depending on the game, if I don't find anything interesting within about an hour I'll drop it and move on. Sometimes I'll give it more time, depending on how long the game is supposed to be; I don't expect a 50 hour game to pull out all the best stuff in the first hour. One way I look at it is this: if the developers didn't bother making the beginning of the game fun, then why should I bother playing more it and wait for it to supposedly "start being fun." I gave up on The Last of Us after about an hour and a half because, to be blunt, I thought it was terrible. The combat was broken, the stealth was trial and error (I hate trial and error based gameplay) and I was accurately guessing everything that was going to happen in the story. After dropping it, I did a quick look online to see what the rest of the story was to see if I was missing anything and I decided that the rest of the game sounded about as predictable and poor as the beginning. Once in a while I'll push myself to keep going and see if a game gets better and once in a while I'm rewarded. Last year I almost wrote off the new Devil May Cry after the first five missions, but I kept playing and I enjoyed it a lot; I don't think it was incredible, but I'm glad I went through it. Same with Final Fantasy XIII, the first time I played it I quit after about 4 and a half hours. Over a year later I tried it again and after slogging through those first few hours, the game actually started to not suck and while overall I think the game was just average, it had some damn good moments; including what I think is one of the best endings in the entire franchise. But most of the time I don't feel bad about "giving up" because I also look at it like this: why waste time with a game I'm not enjoying when I could either go back to another game I like more, or try something I might enjoy?
  • db1331 - January 31, 2014 1:48 p.m.

    BioShock Infinite and Spirit Tracks are the only two games I've ever finished even though I wasn't having fun. I think I just did it based on their pedigree, and maybe the need to find out exactly what all those glowing reviews were talking about. I also finished the campaign for the first Black Ops, even though it was terrible. I guessed the plot extremely early on, and finished it to prove I was right. I had been limping through Ni No Kuni, putting in about 18 hours over the course of a few months, before I received The Last of Us for Xmas. I beat that in a couple weeks, and am currently playing through it again on Survivor mode. I'm not sure I'll even have the desire to ever pop Ni No Kuni back in my PS3. Too many minor aggravations, and despite my approaching the 20 hour mark, it still feels like I'm playing the tutorial.
  • Chong03 - January 30, 2014 9:01 p.m.

    This article is smart and well written and I quit within the first 2 hours of Dishonored, not feeling it. I have had a small urge to pick it off my shelf, but always decide against it. Maybe some day.
  • DrXela - August 20, 2014 6:23 p.m.

    I'm exactly the same. About two hours in, just got bored and the stealth seemed a bit too full on. Keep thinking about picking it up, but I just can't make myself do it.
  • Daidictus - January 30, 2014 6:05 p.m.

    Demon's Souls. It took me about a week of nonstop tries (well, okay, I say nonstop but I had to grind a few levels in between tries because the final boss would kill me and drain my soul levels) but I finally killed the last boss. A feeling washed over me that felt nothing short of orgasmic in terms of relief and accomplishment. The sheer feeling of victory in beating that game will probably never be attainable in any game I ever beat again. Even Dark Souls wasn't the same (probably because beating Demon's Souls had armed me with an experience set inuring me to the games tricks). But if I had given up after the first few days, and simply googled the ending, would I have felt the same way about the game? Fuck no. There are definitely games that you shouldn't feel bad about giving up on (I don't think there would be a day when I would imagine beating AVGNA to ever be a priority) but for the games that are simply hard, giving up doesn't really do the game justice. Imagine all the games that were hard when we were kids. If they were hard and we gave up we probably still wouldn't be playing games today. It's perseverance that separates the true gamer from the casual gamer, not skill.
  • g1rldraco7 - January 30, 2014 8:21 a.m.

    This is a very deep article, has me rethinking about some things. I have given up on a game and that game is Dark Souls. Yet i am excited for Dark Souls 2, crazy huh? The Harvester boss on Nightmare difficulty from the DLC Golems of Amerok from Dragon Age Origins almost broke me, but I did beat it and I feel better. I understand that sometimes it's best to walk away before it gets worse.
  • Torack - January 30, 2014 5:19 a.m.

    A Damn fine rescue from Borderlands 2 made me quit. After two hours of death I had enough. That level killed any joy that i had for that game.
  • Omegachai - January 30, 2014 6:28 a.m.

    You must have some bloody terrible FPS skills, if you walked away from BL2 before you even BEGUN it. You have no idea what "hard" is. Try playing it on the Ultimate playthrough, where enemies are ALWAYS scaled to your level if not higher, with damage models changed. Lol, that's sad.
  • Moondoggie1157 - January 30, 2014 7:01 a.m.

    What a douche...
  • Torack - January 30, 2014 1:35 p.m.

    No poser. What's "sad" is that you think I care what your opinion on this is. Troll someone you can handle. You're not in my league.
  • ObliqueZombie - February 28, 2014 5:33 a.m.

    BL2 was hard despite what anything thinks. It was a poorly designed game, hindered by it's "billion" guns because some of those "guns" were utterly useless. The enemies, were always difficult to hit due to their erratice nature, high hit points, and sometimes quickly recharging shields. Not to mention, the guns at your disposal usually fire too slow, too erratically, or both depending on. I'll give Gearbox points for creativity, but each encounter felt like a drag.
  • Unoriginal - January 30, 2014 2:59 a.m.

    Personally, there is a certain rush of immense manic satisfaction I can derive from masochisticly forcing myself to finish something that I stopped enjoying a long time ago. This twisted feeling of triumph offsets alot of shitty game design and has led to me completing terrible things like I Wanna Be The Guy and AVGN Adventure. In my case, frustration is not a valid reason for me to stop playing. However boredom is. It's the reason I almost never finished Dishonored or gave up on Dragons Dogma. I hated passively playing both games feeling absolutely nothing. But I always get a certain bad feeling when giving up on a game, like somehow I am failing something. I wonder what kind of wierd psychological reinforcement led to that kind of emotional response. Why is there a stigma associated with not finishing games?
  • Pruman - January 30, 2014 2:29 a.m.

    You don't have to justify quitting on Fred Fucks, as he's easily one of the cheapest bosses in video game history and I also nearly gave up because of him. Using Guitar Guy helps because he can fire through the spikes.
  • mafyooz - January 30, 2014 1:09 a.m.

    If it stops being fun and becomes a chore, thats when I consider walking away
  • Redeater - January 30, 2014 12:29 a.m.

    It's pretty simple for me. If it's a completely broken game with shit gameplay mechanics that are causing you to die, I'll give it up because my valuable time could be better spent on the giant backlog of games I have in my possession. Sometimes you just have to be in the right mindset to enjoy a game. For example, when Max Payne 3 came out, I struggled through it on normal and shelved it with mind disgust. A year later I picked it up again and completed the hardest mode and all the extra modes as well. It actually went on to become one of my favorite games ever made. Games like Rayman, Mario, Super Meatboy? You're goddamn right I'm going to 100% that shit. Interestingly enough, I don't think I've given up on a game since the NES days. (Though that actually might have something to do with the fact I try not to buy terrible games)
  • antiAntag0nist - January 30, 2014 3:41 p.m.

    I'm kinda having that same problem with Max Payne 3 now. I got it about a week ago and was struggling with one section of the game. I almost gave up on it, but I did manage to progress. I'm really digging the game, so I just might see it through.