Why I hate completion percentages in games

In LEGO City Undercover, Frank Honey (pictured) calls the central Police database ‘The Compuper’. It's a funny name for what's actually a devilish, malevolent presence. Well, curse you, Compuper! Curse you and your digital readout! Curse you for making me find every cat, every character icon, every hot cup of steaming coffee… every everything just so your figure reads 100.0%.

Why the venom? Well, look above the completion stat: I did it. But at what cost? Sixty hours of precious time. That’s quite a lot of the old ticky stuff to spend watching little LEGO policemen catching little LEGO criminals when you’re 30 years old and full-time employed. But what am I supposed to do when the game keeps showing me that annoying stat everywhere I look?

Every pause screen shows it, you're shown it next to your save file when you load up the game... It’s like a little insult every time you start. Like the game is saying “Let’s have some fun! Oh, but you suck until this says 100%.” I can't deal with that sort of goading. I need to have it done. Why? I don't know... maybe in case anyone asks.

"Have you 100%ed LEGO City Undercover?"



It is absurd and I can see that. But despite my being able to appreciate the absurdity, LEGO City Undercover isn’t even the first game that’s done this to me this year. Similarly, Tomb Raider shows you a completion percentage every time you load up the game. It also made a point of informing me that I’d only finished the game with 94% completion when I finally beat the story.

So what did I do then? I went back into the game. I hunted for everything. Found all the tombs, upgraded all my weapons (by essentially making one particular species of deer extinct in one fell swoop)… I even stayed up stupidly late, driving myself slowly mad searching for mines at the beach and that damn last flag at the cliffside bunker. At least I was inspired to write 20 signs you're playing too much Tomb Raider.

But the nagging thought remains - there are undoubtedly more constructive things I could have done with the time I spent just playing to get from 'finished' to 'completed'. I could have written the first draft of a novel, painted a fresco or composed a symphony. No, really, I could. Sure, they might not have been a very good novel, fresco or symphony, but at least I would have something to show for the time that isn’t just an off-screen photo of a compuper. In fact, the realisation has made me quite angry. And most games don't make me think like that.

For example, I happily poured 65 hours into Pokemon Platinum. Another 100 into Borderlands 2. Maybe 60 hours into Skyrim (so far). Easily 100 hours into Animal Crossing on DS. Who knows. But that's exactly the point. I don't know how much of Animal Crossing I saw because it wasn't constantly telling me with a completion stat.

So why put the percentage stat in games at all? I'd argue it’s actually been detrimental to my enjoyment of both games. Both LEGO City and Tomb Raider are excellent (in very different ways), but hours and hours of superb, fun entertainment gave way to extended sessions of backtracking, protracted exploration and basically what I would call 'hard work'.

Ironically, having hit 100% completion, I actually feel like I’ve only just brushed the surface of LEGO City. I look at its sprawling landscape and still feel excited by the possibilities. But now the game says I've seen it all, I don't want to play it any more.

Why would I? It's not even that I’d be spending more time in a fake universe that I’ve finally escaped from, but because the game itself has told me, categorically, there’s nothing else to do. By its own admission, what would be the point in playing again? Whether starting from scratch or just revisiting the city, it's all been done before. Without the stat? I'd be happy to chase more car thieves, race more time trials... just enjoy policing this wonderful city.

Stupid Compuper. I hope you're pleased with what you've done. If anyone needs me, I'll be painting a fresco. And I won't be back until it's 100% complete.

Justin Towell

Justin was a GamesRadar staffer for 10 years but is now a freelancer, musician and videographer. He's big on retro, Sega and racing games (especially retro Sega racing games) and currently also writes for Play Magazine, Traxion.gg, PC Gamer and TopTenReviews, as well as running his own YouTube channel. Having learned to love all platforms equally after Sega left the hardware industry (sniff), his favourite games include Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, Zelda BotW, Sea of Thieves, Sega Rally Championship and Treasure Island Dizzy.