Picture this. It’s 3am. The only sound you can hear is the rhapsodic music of your game. Sleep is trying to lure you into its pull. You try to resist its charms. You have lectures in the morning. You know the smart thing to do is to shut down the game, and go to sleep. But you can’t bring yourself to do it. Just one more level up, one more turn and it’ll all be over.

This is a scenario a lot of gamers are familiar with. We all give ourselves a limit, we all say we’re not going to cross it, but before we know it, we’ve already gamed our night away and are feeling somewhat miserable, or at the very least, utterly exhausted when it’s over. Unless of course, you’ve been downing Mountain Dew like a madman. I’ll keep going until I hit the next level, you think.

Why do we do that? Do we really get any advantage over doing something there and then as opposed to doing it later, after we’ve done more important things? No we don’t; it’s the game, or maybe yourself, fooling you into thinking you need to keep going, for some kind of artificial endpoint. You may feel like you have something to complete before you can stop, but you really don’t.

As an example of this, imagine you’re reading a book. You’re about to close the book and go to sleep only to realise you have eight or so pages left. You decide to forgo sleep for the moment and plough on. It’s understandable why someone would do this; you’ve just invested eleven or so hours into reading the book, and you think another half an hour won’t make a difference. But remember, at this point, you’re already half asleep, and the ending won’t have the same amount of impact on you now as compared to when you’re wide awake.

“The real issue is with meaningless endpoints, which players create for themselves”

In a more gaming related example, imagine you’ve been playing a few games of Dota. You’ve been doing really well and feel like it’s time to call it quits while you’re still ahead. But then you find out you’re only a few more achievements away from levelling up. So you decide to slog yourself through it and get the achievement. But once you do, you don’t really feel any better for it. In fact, you might look at your current gaming time a little less fondly than before. Why is this? Simply put, you stopped playing for the fun of it. You were now playing to complete a task. Worst still, it was a task with no real benefit, at least not in the real world at that moment. It was a task you decided to put on yourself.

People, in general, love completing things: it’s human nature. Whenever you decide to finish playing a game, you do so out of your own volition, after you’ve hit some sort of goal. Game designers make sure to add in some kind of markers or indicators that make us feel some kind of progress or completion. These can take the form of checkpoints, rewards after completing challenges or finishing a level.

For the most parts, these types of endpoints aren’t bad. They give a sense of game advancement, or, in the case of certain achievements, encourage you to play in a different and interesting way. The real issue is with meaningless endpoints, which players create for themselves. Civilisation is the biggest game where players create hollow endpoints for themselves. ‘Finishing’ a game of Civ, involves several hours at the fastest and several weeks at the slowest. You just cannot finish a game of Civ in a short timespan, so you settle for stopping at the next turn, which leads to the next turn and so on. And thus, people find themselves unable to let go or stop a game.

Free-to-play games, especially, mobile games in particular, are usually designed in a way to give you some arbitrary endpoints. They usually have several types of progression bars or achievements list to show you how much you’ve been playing and how much you serve to gain by playing further. “Gain” is a bit of a loose term, it’s really the game confusing your brain into thinking there are things to be gained.

Hopefully, now that I’ve spelt things out a bit, it’ll be become easier to drop games at the first opportunity. Recognise why you’ve been playing up until a certain point and whether you’re doing it to meet some kind of artificial endpoint. If you can learn to let go at the right time, you’ll be all the better for it and enjoy the game much more as a whole.