You place the controller down. Exhale. The tension leaves your body, you slowly flick your eyelids open in a zen-like trance. Finally, you have done it. It's over. You've done it. The game is over. The credits roll, you allow yourself a moment to drink it all in. Then you start Facebooking and tweeting about what an awesome human being you are.
This is what it means to finish a video game in this day and age.
I've been playing video games for as long as I can remember, I've even managed to complete a few. But there are a few moments that stand out. Moments like the above -- with the zen-like states, the genuine sense of achievement. Moments you might actually consider writing home to Ma and Pa about.
These are the five games I'm most proud of finishing.
Secret of Monkey Island
The Year: 1990 The feeling: Smug sense of intellectual superiority
Why I was so proud...
It may seem strange to start with Monkey Island. It's far from the twitchy, skill based type of game you'd expect me to be proud of completing. When Monkey Island was released it was an adventure game that was essentially famous for refusing to kill players. You can't die in Monkey Island, hence it's pretty easy, right?
Well, yes and no.
I was nine years old when Monkey Island came out and I fell in love. It might have been the music, it might have been the writing. It might have been the idea of exploring these islands, solving puzzles, I don't know. The point is -- I was nine years old and I had barely worked out how to tie my own shoelaces and wipe my own arse. Completing a game like Monkey Island which featured some pretty wacked out puzzles that made no sense whatsoever felt like a pretty big deal back then.
And it was also the moment when my policy of 'no game guides/gamefaqs allowed' was born. I went through every single puzzle in Monkey Island without even peeking at the multitudes of guides that appeared in Amiga Power or whatever magazine it was I was subscribed to at the time. That left me with a smug sense of intellectual superiority that has stubbornly remained to this day.
I even did that crazy potion puzzle in Act 2 by myself! I earned that smug!
The Year: 2008 The Feeling: Like your Dad after he solved the most difficult crossword puzzle ever conceived.
Why I was so proud
Reactions to Braid were all over the joint. Some wanted to analyse what they had just played, others shared theories. Some were confused. Soulja Boy made a YouTube video about it.
I ignored all that. I was too busy solving the puzzles, one by one, massaging my ego to the point where I could feel the enormity of it pressing against the front of my skull.
In short, Braid made me feel like a goddamn genius.
Anytime I do something a little bit stupid, like leave the car lights on or trip over my shoelaces, I just go home, fire up Braid and look at the leaderboards. I look at my perfectly completed set of Jigsaw pieces. I see the multitudes on my friends list who just couldn't hack it, who gave up halfway through, or just couldn't get those last two pieces. Or I see my brother's completed set, but rest safe in the knowledge that he totally had to call me at 3 in the morning to ask me how to get that one in World 5.
Yes. I am a golden god. Bow down to me, King of the north, master of all that I survey. I am the lord of the dance.
The Year: 2009 The Feeling: There's your dinner!
Why I was so proud
Skate 2 wasn't supposed to this tough. It just wasn't. I had completed every single task available to me and this was the last thing on my list. Beat a bloody pro at a bloody game of 'Skate', a modified version of 'Horse' with kickflips.
It was a task so difficult that, eventually, EA Black Box had to patch it. It was, fundamentally broken. The CPU controlled player you were competing against could not be beat.
Unless you did one trick perfectly. Every single time.
To beat a cheat you sometimes have to cheat, or at least bend the rules. If you did some variation of a 540 flip trick, you could beat this CPU controlled bastard almost every time. It was cheap. It sucked, but it was literally the only way.
Victory. Sweet, cheap victory.
Super Meat Boy
The Year: 2008 The Feeling: Like an alien with five thumbs.
Why I was so proud
I was so proud because Super Meat Boy is hard. Haaaaaaaaaaaaard.
Super Meat Boy had levels you sauntered into and walked straight back out. 'No', you would say to yourself. 'This is physically impossible. My brain is small and fragile. My reaction time is sluggish and clumsy.'
But you did it anyway, because you were a Scandinavian God-King with reflexes to match. You were an evolved human being with thumbs grown from sacred genetic material express delivered from Pluto on some mysterious meteorite destined to deliver you from deviously intricate level design. God bless you Super Meat Boy.
The Year: 2012 The Feeling: Pure, unadulterated relief. Greatest feeling in the universe.
Why I was so proud
Words cannot describe. Completing every single track on Trials Evolution is an achievement in itself. Getting a gold medal on every track is also extremely, extremely difficult.
But imagine the scene: the final tournament. Every single extreme track, back to back; no respite. It's perhaps one of the most gruelling, arduous tasks in all of gaming. Completing the tournament is one thing, but to get a gold medal? It feels almost impossible. The player has to complete seven nerve-shredding, fiendish tracks in under 30 minutes, with only 153 fault allowed. Considering I know some pretty committed Trials players who need 200 faults to complete just one of these tracks -- well, you understand just how difficult completing all seven back to back is.
The final track, The Way of the Ninja. It's not the most difficult -- that honour belongs to Inferno III -- but it's the longest of the seven by far. It's a test of endurance and I'm falling apart. I'm halfway through the track and I only have 10 faults remaining. I'll never get this close again. If I fail now I will throw my controller, my 360 and -- if I can lift it -- my 46 inch plasma over my balcony into the swimming pool below.
The stakes are high. My hands are sweating. Physically shaking. I've played this track before, but I'm crumbling to pieces. I have to pause the game. I literally have to pause the game. I inhale slowly, count to five. Exhale. One... two... three... four... five...
Almost there. 149 faults. Oh god. I hate this part. It's simple, but I've fallen off here before. If I lose momentum now, I'll screw it all up I just know it.
Accelerate. Lean back. Shift the weight forward. Jump. Bump three times. Maintain balance. Bump. Bump. Bump.
Finish the rest of the track. Two faults remaining. Put the controller down. Stare at the screen. Breathe. Take in the enormity of this personal achievement. This achievement that feels so trivial.
I did it.
Now check out the five games I'm horribly embarrassed I haven't finished!