Lessons From An Intergalactic Puffball [Part 2]

This portion concerns some things about the end of Kirby's Return To Dreamland, so just to be safe, I'll leave this here.

Spoilers Abound!

You might want to hold off on reading this if you're worried about discovering everything the game has to offer on your own. Anyway, this next portion is mostly about...

"Extra" Content

A lot of game genres mark the end of the main gameplay phase with the defeat of the final boss or trial, and the rolling of credits. Return To Dreamland is no exception. After defeating the last boss on the main file, a new mode opened up called "Extra".

A fair amount of games these days give you something else to do after the credits, so none of this was altogether surprising. But I guess I'm starting to realize that, because of this, terms like "extra" and "postgame content" are starting to feel like slight misnomers. At this point I expect something new to happen for getting past the final boss and credits. It doesn't feel like anything extra per se; instead I consider the so-called "Extra Mode" still simply part of the main game, and feel that developers are obligated to put some more content after the last boss (even though they aren't). In Return To Dreamland, Extra Mode sends you through the main story again but with harder bosses and half of your ordinary health bar, so it's pretty much Hard Mode. Even though it's essentially HAL Laboratories tricking me into playing the same game twice, I was compelled to do it anyway because there were yet experiences left... unexperienced. I had to know what happened if you completed everything the developers included.

100% Completion: "What's the point?"

Kirby games also keep track of how much you've completed the game--in other words, having done everything there is to do in the main game, including miscellaneous collections that aren't necessary to pass the stages. The main menu displays a percentage that indicates how much you've done. You don't have to get 100% to defeat the boss and see the credits, but doing so on Normal and Extra Mode, and clearing both of the corresponding Arena (Boss Battles) Modes yields a nice little surprise.

It's a 30 second long video of Kirby and his allies doing a dance on stage. OK, so it's probably not that nice of a surprise.

Someone who had been watching me play through all of these grueling trials to get such a silly little video couldn't help but remark in an exasperated huff:

"What's the point?"

Good question. Why play the game once, then play the exact same game again with less health, fight through Boss Battles, and go through the trouble of collecting every last thing in the game for... well, that. I almost felt bad after she said that, honestly. Like, what a waste of time.

But you can ask that question about any game. Game completionists don't go through trouble like this in hopes that they'll see the best list of credits ever to be seen in the history of mankind. Or in hopes that the console will spit out a million bucks once they've completed everything. In cases like this, the end is almost never as important as what it took to get there.

I think this applies even outside of talking about getting 100% in video games. What is the point of playing a video game? Is it winning?

I don't think so, not always. We're not in some hurry to see the heroes walk into the sunset or see the villain die a horrible but justified death--we've seen those things hundreds of times. The process and fun of overcoming the challenge is arguably the most important aspect of the game. "Winning" is just a reward that indicates you did it as intended by the developers. Winning the game might make us feel good for the rest of the afternoon but it's negligible--we've beaten tons of games in our lifetimes. A self-pat on the back for beating the game is very little compared to the experiences and nostalgia that result from a playthrough.

This is nothing really new to veteran gamers reading this. But playing Return to Dreamland really reminded me to keep this mentality. I was disappointed at the end of Kirby's Epic Yarn for instance when I got 100% and nothing happened. But really, what should have happened? It seems to me winning and the moment of seeing "100%" on your save file are very small parts of the gaming experience.

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