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The video game mop-up: solution to all of life's problems

Sweeper hit.

Recently I have been in one of those periods where no video game will do, where I have chased a game - a something - across download libraries and subscription catalogues and a couple of cupboard drawers in vain, a quest across gaming's ribcage and shoulder blades for some roaming, ineffable itch that I cannot scratch. I suspect I'm not alone in this one, though, so if you ever find yourself in the same spot, may I suggest: the mop-up.

A narrated tour of the Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra expansions for Pokémon Sword and Shield - ideal locations for a mop-up sesh.Watch on YouTube

The mop-up has many forms. For me, somewhat uncreatively, it's the task of completing a "living 'dex" in Pokémon - catching one of every Pokémon ever released and storing them all, in order, in one place, including all the many different forms and stages of each evolution. This makes it a bit more long-winded than completing a regular regional or national Pokédex, because you couldn't just catch, say, one Abra and then evolve it into Kadabra, then Alakazam, crossing off all three at once - you need one of each in your possession simultaneously.

The challenge is really besides the point, though. A good mop-up, I reckon, will always have a few common elements. One is that it happens, by definition, at the end of a game you've broadly completed - think finishing sidequests, bumping off the last surviving enemies on a given list, wiping the final factions off a map, et cetera.

This is a lot like trophy and/or achievement hunting but there is a crucial difference, which is, also, another ever-present of a good mop-up: it has to be intrinsically satisfying. As in, the stuff you're doing in the process has to feel good to do, regardless of any kind of additional, external (I refuse to say "extrinsic") rewards or incentives for doing it, like that little telltale ding-a-ling of the Platinum popping once you're done.

A screenshot of a section of showing all but one pokemon remaining from a group of 30. is a very handle tool for sprawling tasks like a living dex.

Finally, an essential ingredient: a small amount of bullshit. This is hard to quantify - everyone has different tolerance levels for this stuff - but it's where Pokémon's near-interminable endgame becomes such a great example. Catching Pokémon is easy on paper but in practice it is as hard as you want to make it.

For instance, catching wild Pokémon the old-fashioned way - whittling away health, blasting them with some form of sleep and/or paralysis, lobbing Poké Balls - is the most straightforward of many methods you'll need to master in order to complete a living Pokédex. You can do it with any old Pokémon in your team, but soon enough you'll find it starts to get slow, and awkward. Your team might be too high-level to chip away a wild monster's health without completely knocking it out, so you'll want to teach it False Swipe, a move that will, at most, only do enough damage to leave an opponent with 1HP remaining.

A screenshot of your Pokémon storage box from Pokémon Sword and Shield showing my catcher Pokémon Gallade highlighted
Lovely Gallade, and Bisharp in reserve, have served me well.

But not all Pokémon can learn False Swipe! So you might need to catch one - and you might need to find the item that lets you teach False Swipe in the first place. And what about those sleep- or paralysis-inducing moves? It needs to know them too if you want to get through this quickly. One of each, since some Pokémon can't sleep and others can't get paralysed - and some, namely Ghost-types, aren't damaged by False Swipe either. At this point you might as well get yourself a "catcher Pokémon" - one that can learn four fully useful moves to cover (almost) all eventualities - which takes time to do itself. Then you want to level it up, then you may begin. And remember: this is one of several methods you'll be using along the way.

It's this faff, this limbering-up, jogging on the spot, starting grid wheel-spin work-before-the-work that is part of the joy of a good mop-up. It's what means that, once the mop-up begins, there is an extra layer of satisfaction coating the surface, an almighty crunch that sounds each time you use your excessive, overly-prepared force to smash a big fat tick into the next puny box on the list. Objective: annihilated.

A screenshot of the Isle of Armor map in Pokémon Sword and Shield
The Isle of Armor is the ideal spot for this kind of gentle, end-game housework.

Again: this is what makes a good mop-up a good mop-up. What I'm craving when I find myself grabbing at this impossible game is, I've come to realise, a kind of paradox. I'm craving something that feels immensely satisfying, that provides a sense of genuine achievement; but also something that gives me that satisfaction immediately and repeatedly - and also, also, at least somewhat healthily.

What I'm after is a rejection of what I'm often left with in other games, the extremes of immediately gratifying but overtly addictive stimulation - the double-kills of League of Legends, the ft-ft-fit of headshots in CoD, goals of FIFA, one-more-turns of a 4X, one more levels of an RPG, one more daily objective of any service game under the sun - or, at the other end, the denser challenge of "higher" games that want you to earn it, through mastery of systems or challenge or sheer volume of text.

I love those games, but I don't love their baggage, the things they want or need from me. A mop-up, in contrast to those, is something you do for the love of it - because you just fancy having one of every Pokémon. Because they're neat. In fact a mop-up, really, is a recovery of control. A rearrangement of the power. A rare case of using your time to game as a gift to no-one but yourself.