Does size matter?
It would appear that more and more video game developers have been answering with a resounding “no” over the past few years. Along with the advent of distribution has come a glut of titles that offer high-quality experiences at the expense of actual game length. Games like Journey, The Walking Dead, and Limbo have all received great critical acclaim as of late, but none of them last much longer than a couple of hours.
There are certainly plenty of detractors to this model, but Massimo Guarini, production company Ovosonico founder and former Grasshoper Manufacture director, is not one of them. Like many of those in the industry today, Guarini believes that as the gaming generation of years past matures, so too should at least some of the games they play.
"[Those who were playing] Mario 20 years ago or Donkey Kong 30 years ago, they don't have the same amount of time anymore," Guarini said in an interview with Gamasutra this past July. "They have kids. They have jobs. They come home in the evening, they're tired, and they have to manage their lives in a totally different way than a 15 to 20-year-old kid.
"When you are in that situation, and when you sit down on the couch after dinner with your family, if you're given the choice between a movie and you know that's going to be over in two hours and that's it, or a game and you never know when the game is going to be finished and how much effort is going to be required from you, it's obvious. We're basically lazy, right, so you're going to choose the movie."
Guarini makes a compelling case. Nothing is eternal. The game industry is still young, all things considered, so much so that there are countless people alive today who were around when video gaming as we know it effectively started.
As such, gamers are in the midst of their first cross-generational crisis. With the short games issue in particular, young is clashing with old, adult is squaring off against youth, modern is rebelling against retro. Older gamers are older people—of course they’re burdened with all the responsibilities and time sinks that the large majority of older people are saddled with. There just isn’t enough time in the day for fun and entertainment consumption.
For those people, something like Skyrim isn’t going to always work. Let’s be clear: Lots of adult gamers with jobs and kids and all that bought and played Skyrim. But it’s not the optimal experience for their lifestyles. The amount of content in many games these days is simply overwhelming, and oftentimes unnecessary. Story modes last dozens of hours, there are thousands of doohickeys and whatchamacallits to tinker around with, and the massive amounts of details can begin to swirl together into an avalanche of pure stuff that’s impossible for one who doesn’t mentally prepare himself beforehand to enjoy. This is an extreme example, sure, but it’s a trend nonetheless. And it takes too much time.
A brisker, movie-length experience is much better suited for this adult set of needs. Journey, The Walking Dead, and the like are games not necessarily made for everyone, but they are the best option of the older “core” gamer without unlimited amounts of time. Some may say that the rise of social and mobile games can satisfy adult gamers’ thirsts, and while that’s certainly true in many cases, they’re just not the same as their console and PC counterparts, for all the reasons you’d expect.
There’s this weird belief amongst many of today’s gamers that quantity has suddenly become an acceptable substitute for quality. As in, a game like Journey isn’t worth the $15 price tag because there aren’t heaps of collectibles, side missions, or extras to be had alongside its core narrative.
To think in this way is not only dangerous, but misses the point of such games in the first place. What matters is a game’s quality—is it good or not? This is a very basic idea. Now, if someone doesn’t like the main tenets of games like Journey or Dear Esther and feels their money was not well spent on a fundamental level, then that’s fine, and there’s really nothing wrong with that (although I’d probably disagree with your analysis). But, a game with more stuff doesn’t equal a better experience. It just means that it’s a game with more stuff.
Give me a two-hour experience that I can’t bring myself to put down, and I’ll be happy to pay any reasonable price you ask me to. Give me a full-length experience that sacrifices enjoyability for extra modes, items, and features, and I’ll be happy to save my $60. Different gamers have different tastes, yes, but aren’t, y’know, good games the kind of things we’re paying for in the first place? In what universe do we give up the restaurant that gives us good food for the restaurant that simply feeds us more?
The two-hour game format may be doing more than putting the emphasis back on what really matters in a game—it may also be forcing us to reconsider what exactly it is that we want out of this racket.
Date: October 26, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*