Why would you want to do that?
Vintage Game Club - Deus Ex

What do we say when we're done?

Behind_the_beat I was chatting with a dozen or so incoming college freshmen a couple of days ago, and we were discussing games they had recently played. One of them casually mentioned that he had beaten GTA IV. I found that expression interesting, so I asked him, how do you "beat" GTA IV? He replied that he had completed all 114 available missions, so in his view he overcame all the challenges the game presented to him and had, therefore, beaten it.

Aside from being surprised to learn GTA IV has 114 missions (and realizing how little I've actually accomplished in the game), I found myself zeroing in that word "beat." So I asked the others how they tended to characterize the act of completing or otherwise reaching the end of a video game. With only a couple of exceptions, all agreed that "beating" a game is a suitable description for that accomplishment.

Games that don't have clear endings, such as Geometry Wars or World of Warcraft, it was generally agreed, can also be beaten. In Geometry Wars 2 one must rack up all 12 Achievements and 200 gamer points. In WOW, one must level up to 70 and complete all the expansion quests. It was agreed that one never really "finishes" WOW, but it's still basically possible to "beat" the game...until Blizzard releases the Lich King expansion, which will require players to beat it again.

I'm one of those people who think words matter - a lot, actually - so I found this conversation incredibly interesting and revealing. Let me say that I apply no judgment here at all. Gamers are free to engage with games and derive whatever meaning they want from those experiences. I'm not interested in convincing anybody to think one way or another. But I'm struck by the degree to which my own sense of things differs from these students.

I've always tended to say that I "finish" games. Occasionally I say I "complete" them, which is a subtly different characterization. So I finished Metal Gear Solid 4, and I completed Super Mario Galaxy. I've tried hard, but I can't think of a single game I've played and beaten, even though plenty of my friends regularly use that word. I've beaten plenty of bosses; just not games. And I'm not sure why I don't beat games; it's certainly not a moral or ethical thing. Hey, if you want to beat Kirby's Dream Land, I say go deliver a can of whoopass to that nasty King Dedede. Whatever floats your boat.

Obviously, different genres and modes of play determine how we interact with games, but I'm curious about the dynamic relationships players develop with games and the words they use to describe those experiences. Do I finish or complete games because I'm older than these 18-year-olds? Is it simply a generational thing? Or is more complex than that? Maybe in this case words really don't matter very much. I don't know, but I'm very curious to hear other opinions on the subject. Maybe you can let me know...after you beat that game you're playing.