When Have You Actually ‘Beat’ a Game?

When Have You Actually ‘Beat’ a Game?

By now, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the discourse that blew up recently related to the idea of ‘beating’ video games, whether it really matters, and how one should be expected to discuss their experience with a game based on the context in which they played it. Yeah, I’m talking about the tweets from Mike Matei of Cinemassacre. This isn’t a takedown piece, nor a rant. Rather, I felt it was a topic that was worth exploring because I believe we can learn from it. The divide split the community so hard that even major content creators that are usually more than respectful of each other have ‘crossed swords’, so to speak.

Watch it here

I’m not going to pretend that I personally sit in the middle of this argument, unsure of which side I fall on. I completely disagree with Mike here, outside of specific contexts that he didn’t bring up himself.

For anyone who hasn’t seen, these are the tweets in question:

As you can see, the first Tweet argues that if you use the rewind feature in re-releases of classic titles, you can’t say you actually beat the game. Rewind for any that don’t know, pretty much does exactly what it says, allowing you to rewind your progress and restart from any previous moment, within a certain time frame. Some games like the MegaMan Legacy Collection give players an enormous amount of rewind leeway in case they realize they made a major mistake, say, all the way at the beginning of a boss fight.

Mike’s follow-up clarification attempts to shine more light on his intent by explaining that he doesn’t believe in telling people how to play their games; just that he definitely thinks you can’t say you beat a game if you use them.

As his clarification illustrates, a lot of people misinterpreted his words as an argument against playing games how you wish. I don’t think this was his point, nor do I think he meant any intentional hostility, despite the harsh word choice and finality of his statements. However, this does not mean his point holds water because I don’t think it does when you start to break it down.

On the surface, his sentiment might feel like it rings clean and true to many of us. I mean, what’s so wrong with trying to make a distinction between ‘beating’ a game, and finishing it with external help that isn’t part of the original design? The idea might even brush up against topics like journalistic integrity in your mind, further lending credence to it. After all, if someone is trying to do a comprehensive, formal critique of a game as a whole, or if they’re claiming to be an authority on the game as a whole in some way, it’s totally fair for people to expect that they’ve finished the game as it was originally designed. You do not need to finish a game to discuss parts of it in a professional, authoritative, or formal context. But you should most certainly finish it if that’s a pretense of the discussion you’re creating, or at least make it completely transparent that you didn’t finish the game, and why that’s the case.

The problem is that understandable ideas like this tend to mix themselves in with the larger whole Mike’s statement implies, which I feel obfuscates the pretty severe overreach taking place here. The problem is, Mike’s statements are simply too broad to provide real structure to lean on, and yet still try to be final and definitive in nature. His statement was a blanket statement. Mike wasn’t saying “I never say I’ve beaten a game if I used rewind to do so.”. He said, “If you used rewind, you didn’t beat the game.”. This implies a universality to his logic, and intentional or otherwise, attempts to dictate his beliefs on the topic as some sort of truth everyone should abide by. After all, what else can “If you use the rewind feature, you did not by any stretch of the imagination beat the god damn game.” impart upon others? What else can it be doing, other than dictating your use of language based on his rules?

And again, his clarification tweet does little to actually focus his ideas under this pretense and instead addresses a tangentially related response he saw thrown his way. He’s right in that clarification, too. He never once said people couldn’t play the game in any way they wanted to. Again… he just said you aren’t allowed to discuss your experience using certain language he has now placed a gate around.

Like I said, I do not by any means believe Mike’s intentions were hurtful, nor hateful. But I also do not believe he understands the true reach of such a statement; a statement that would mean little under normal circumstances, but is much more damaging when you factor in his position as an authority in the gaming community and the reach of his platform. I don’t think he would’ve seen even a modicum of the same backlash had he instead stated this idea as a principle he chooses to live by for personal reasons.

Obviously, I’m not expecting him to completely think through the potential impact of every single public statement he makes. Of course, he didn’t really reflect much upon the statement, because it was a throwaway remark on Twitter. But for the purposes of this article/video, I want to dissect his statement and explore just how little it actually makes sense when you break it down.

An important piece of the context within his statement comes from the fact that he chooses to highlight features like rewind because they’re not part of the original intention of the game’s design. This obviously indicates that his problem deals with some sort of external nature intrinsic to the feature. What it is about the externality of the feature that causes it to cross the line he draws, we don’t know. So we’re more or less left with a laundry list of potential qualifiers that could drastically change the meaning of the idea he’s presenting. The one thing that does seem pretty clear at least, is that he is referring to changes that could potentially make the game easier. With that in mind, here are just a few of the questions I feel would need to be answered for this idea to provide a tangible value of any kind.

So firstly, is it purely that rewind is an additive feature that wasn’t part of the original release that separates playthroughs using it from ones that don’t? Or maybe the fact that things like rewind features are a relatively new part of this ecosystem of accessibility options? What does that say about patches? Even games on the earliest dedicated consoles got patches, though before they could be easily distributed online, it was done through subsequent print runs of physical game copies. If something is made easier through an update, is that too far away from the original release?

Or what about bonuses and DLC you can buy? I bought the Deluxe Edition of Need for Speed 2015 because it came with some cars and cosmetic things. But one of the extras thrust upon me that I can’t turn off is a pretty hefty discount when buying cars and parts. This fundamentally changes the game experience to some degree. So did I not truly beat that game because I had to play with this boost enabled?

What about something like the Zodiac Age version of Final Fantasy XII, where the game itself is made quite a bit easier than the original purely due to balancing changes made for the sake of other revamped systems? Or what about the fact that on some platforms like the Xbox One X players can change jobs mid-game, and in others like the PS4 version you currently can’t? The initial response might be “Well, you still beat that version of the game with those changes, so you can still say you beat the game.”. But remember what Mike originally said… the addition of rewind features to a new port of an existing game disqualifies it in his eyes.

Keeping with the topic of RPGs, what about grinding? If you choose to trivialize combat by mindlessly leveling for a few hours, or getting a piece of overpowered equipment early on, like the Zodiac Spear in the original version of Final Fantasy XII, does that mean you didn’t really beat the game? If grinding itself doesn’t cross the line, what about speed up features in later ports that makes grinding easier?

Do region differences change things? If the version in your region is easier, does that cross the line? What if it’s a version where some content like a level was completely cut?

What about quicksaves and save scumming? I mean, these options do in most ways effectively work just like rewind after all. Does that mean beating the PC version is a lesser accomplishment because they make that sort of thing so accessible? (Note: If you do, don’t let the PC Master Race hear you say it out loud.)

What if these accessibility options like rewind were intended to be in the original version of the game, or the game was intended to be easier in some other way, but limited development time, hardware, budget, or other constraints got in the way? How does their intent interact with the final product in general? And related to that, what if the developers of the game in question disagree with this argument, and would argue these people did still beat their games? I’d bet you most of them would.

What about overpowered options that exist in the original release of a game? If you heavily rely on something like the Top Secret Area in Super Mario World for lives, power-ups, and Yoshis that allow you to basically brute force levels with little effort, are you no longer really beating the game? What about skipping levels with the cape? Or is using Star Road to skip most of the game going too far? How much of the game are you allowed to skip before you can no longer say you beat it?

What if you used a guide? Does it matter whether the guide came from a third party source, a first-party source that requires a separate purchase, or the manual of the game itself? Earthbound came with the strategy guide in its massive box; does using it mean that you didn’t really beat the game?

What if a friend or sibling helped you out, or you played the game together with someone by trading the controller? What about co-op in a game that doesn’t rebalance itself to be more difficult in the co-op?

What if the game is unfinished, or its design unfair? Driver 1’s final mission is notoriously difficult and poorly designed. Does it really matter if you don’t beat just that one mission? And actually, let me expand on this specific idea for a moment.

The circle of games Mike referenced in his tweet is primarily 2D retro games. But we know for a fact that many retro games intentionally include unfair design because games were really expensive back in the day, and usually didn’t last that long thanks to memory limitations. In that sense, is it really so bad if I cheat a game that cheats me? Or is that me leveling the playing field?

Most people -myself included- criticized Mighty Number 9 up and down for overusing instant death for example. But when Mega Man uses it -and it most certainly does- I’m suddenly be expected to just deal with it? Is it okay if I only rewind deaths that are unfair? If so, who decides what’s unfair?

There are many other examples of questions that could and should be asked as well. Here are all the rest I could personally come up within just a few minutes, some of which are tangentially related to the examples above, but all of which I feel throw a wrench in the gears to some degree.

At this point, you start to ask what ‘beating a game’ even means. In fact, this was pointed out by a Twitter user going by the handle VirtuaSchlub, and I think it’s an incredibly important part of this discussion that almost nobody else seems to be having. It’s arguably the most important part in fact because the discussion of games is about a lot more than hitting arbitrary checklist goals.

Doesn’t the phrase ‘beat a game’ arguably undermine and misrepresent the experiences we can have with games? Even if we could come up with a well defined, universal rule for what constitutes ‘beating a game’, would that even matter? I’ve spent a lot of time playing Spelunky, and have never finished a run with or without going through the Hell stages. I’ve never even made it to Hell in that game. I greatly value that time spent regardless, and while I would definitely like to one day reach the end, I don’t think there’s something missing when I’m discussing the game with most people just because I haven’t ‘beat’ the game. In fact, I’d wager most people who’ve played Spelunky haven’t beat it. So outside of discussions of what it’s like to finish the game, what of merit does that offer in most conversations of the game?

Sure, the idea of finishing or conquering a game has merits in certain contexts. I personally am the type of person who loves quote-unquote ‘beating’ games. Like… I have 22 Platinum Trophies and then like another 12 games where I got all of the Achievements on the Xbox for a reason. And I love doing challenge runs of games. I’ve beat Kingdom Hearts 2 on Critical Level 1. Earlier this year I even uploaded a video where I beat it without using any keyblade combos on Critical. I enjoy occasionally going through new game plus ranks on Souls games… there was a point where I was in the top 3000 people in the world who played Gran Turismo. And I regularly got into the top 300 or so in drift trials. I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours honing my craft in that series. I know all about the lust to prove yourself in games. But that’s also not all games are about. It’s really the icing on the cake, with the cake being the actual game itself.

So I don’t really think it means much to ‘beat’ a game, outside of my circle of friends and our personal discussions related to those achievements. We discuss it purely for ourselves. Which again, is something that Mike’s statements could’ve illustrated. But instead, he turned that into a rule he feels others should follow. A rule that a multitude of others -including major content creators- then ran with, solidifying it as an idea they believe is worth taking seriously, even if it leaves others out of the conversation.

Again, unless you claim to be an authority, or are discussing a game’s whole, isn’t such an idea meaningless without the context of the specific conversation it’s being used within? Can’t others decide what constitutes beating a game for themselves in their own private discussions? What negative impact does it have on the wider discourse around games if people in their personal lives choose to say they beat a game, even when using these modern accessibility tools? And what do you gain from telling them they didn’t beat the game? If someone wants to scream to the world that they beat Dark Souls, despite being carried all the way through by a friend in co-op, what in the world is the problem with that, and why does it matter so much to you that you have to take a public stance against it?

As I’ve hopefully illustrated, there is a lot more to ‘beating games’ than can be condensed into such a simple statement. If you personally want to use clarifications like “I beat this game, but I used cheats.” that’s totally fine. I would never argue that more clarity is a bad thing when it comes to that sort of discussion, and that’s the way I personally choose to phrase things too. But I also don’t see any reason it should be a universal requirement for… what… nerd cred? What’s the point? Clearly, as my pedantic, probably annoying mountain of examples illustrated, ‘beating a game’ is realistically a rather dysfunctional phrase that, at best, can be used frivolously in discussions between people who have their own definition of the term, or can be defined as a way to create standards for authority figures intending to critique a work.

But outside of that, I’d say it’s just too broad to really be used in any meaningful way within the wider discourse of games. Pretending otherwise really only serves to try and take the voice away from people who don’t want to live by your rules. So warranted or not, don’t act surprised that those people rebel and lash out when you try to dictate how they can use said voice. Whether that’s the intention or not, when you try to dictate to others that they ‘didn’t by any stretch of the imagination beat the god damn game.’, that’s the only meaning that can really be gleaned from your words.

But what d’you guys think? If you agreed with Mike before, do you still agree with him now? If not, do you have anything to add? Or maybe do you have further examples of situations you feel would need to be defined for his idea to carry weight? Sound off in the comments below!

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Editors Note:

LibraScope is a Content Contributor for 181Gaming, all views are his own. If you would like to create content for the community, click here.

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