Short Video Games: Length Doesn't Always Matter
The older we get, the more valuable our time becomes, resulting in “shorter” games becoming more attractive. Published on Thu, Oct 10, 2019. Written by Michael Bassili.
Child-Michael played a lot of open-world games. Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto Vice City, IV, and V, Red Dead Redemption, Assassin’s Creed, oh my! I saw these kinds of games as “valuable” or “value-rich” because they contained a large amount of content. Now, a decade later, I find that I encounter substantial internal friction in playing open-world games. I put in over three hundred combined hours (across PC, and XBOX 360) into Skyrim, taking my time and investigating every quest that came my way. However, I recently completed Red Dead Redemption 2, and I noticed I was rushing to complete the main quest, skipping as much of the secondary content as I could.
So, why the change in play? Have modern open-world, AAA-blockbusters somehow devolved in quality? While I think that games like the modern Assassin’s Creed games have devolved in quality, I don’t think that would be fair to all the others. RDR2 was an amazingly realized game, full of little details I appreciated every time I had the pleasure of noticing them. And, its main and side content was well written & scripted. If anything, improving technologies, sensibilities, and collective industry progress have all contributed to an average increase in the quality of most AAA releases (this even applies to the more notable indie releases as well).
Moreover, people are still buying & playing these large-scale open-world games. Something must be wrong on my end… What I suspect was happening is that my priorities and value systems have evolved over the years. I’d argue that most people go through this personal transition as they age, assuming they began playing games at an early age.
Longer games require a substantial time commitment to complete. Games like The Witcher 3 are estimated to take about fifty hours to complete. Now, the older I get, the less free time I seek to dedicate to playing games. As an adult, I have certain responsibilities that require my attention, like some kind of employment, education, band-related hobby, etc. Younger-Michael only really had to go to school. The rest of his day was completely free, and what better way to spend an abundance of free time than on lengthy video games. Adult-Michael seems to prioritize things spending time with loved ones, working on hobbies (like this very site), and exercising overplaying a long video game.
I also tend to get this feeling of dread whenever I decide to dedicate myself to completing long games. Like I can see my week flash before my eyes, all the ignored chores, all the weights I could be lifting, all the articles I could write for various websites. I’m actively preventing myself from completing all of these tasks to play Red Dead Redemption 2. That’s a lot of friction!
There’s a lot to love about relatively “short” games. Besides being shorter, and therefore less of a time sink to complete, here are some benefits, separated into categories…
The shorter the game, the less likely for the game to be padded out with filler content (e.g. those “challenges” the Assassin’s Creed games plaster across your map). Less filler is pretty much always a good thing; nobody wants to spend more of their finite time on Earth doing filler mini-games. Games like The Witcher 3 (2015) were praised precisely because their side content had the same amount of thought and care put into it as its main content.
It’s easier to remain coherent when dealing with shorter media; shorter campaigns tend to be more focused and coherent. Games like Mass Effect 2 (2010) are known for having an unfocused narrative since you’re always running around to complete secondary objectives. The shorter the game is, the more fluff a director has to discard. Smaller games, like Metal Gear Solid (1998) and Bayonetta (2009) are highly-reviewed classics that benefit from their brevity. Both pace their content well-enough that the player rarely finds themselves bored or purposeless.
Shorter games lend to replayability; you’re more likely to want to replay a game like Sonic Mania (2017) than Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018) because the latter is just so damn long. A game can also offer alternate modes of play, such as a new-game-plus mode, to promote repeated runs. Games like Dark Souls 3 (2016) allow you to replay the game with tougher bosses and enemies, for example.
Games that try to get people to play daily are their beast. These “lifestyle” games try to become a routine part of a player’s life. And, these kinds of games have no place in my life, more so as I continue to age. I imagine the perfect time to get into a game like Destiny (2014) or World Of Warcraft (2004) would’ve been around Middle School or High School. Nowadays, I cringe thinking of all the responsibilities that would be willfully ignored should I take up a “lifestyle” game now. These kinds of games will always appeal to (probably younger) players who have few responsibilities and much free time. Games like Team Fortress 2 (2007) almost act like little hangouts for friends to get together and kill time.
In closing, I want to cast praise to games that are as long as they need to be, offering new-game-plus modes. Games that don’t exceed their welcome; games without much filler. After grade school, when the tasks associated with adulthood begin to set in, these kinds of short, replayable, coherent experiences become more attractive. At the end of the day, I’d rather play 8hrs of great rather than 80hrs of alright.