You’ve turned 40, you’ve bought that car, went on a Hawaiian vacation, went mountain climbing with your kids, the typical mid-life crisis, and you look back, thinking about how many years you’ve squandered away, playing the games you love. Every moment you’ve spent hammering that X button is a precious commodity, but do game developers realize that? Publishers seem to think that 80 hour lengths are a feature worth boasting about, and that time adds up, but are those 80 hours really an experience worth spending your time upon? Could that experience been fit into 40, or even 20 hours? What if the journey was more important than the destination?
I think a lot could be said about the time you actually spend within a game, and there’s a couple things worth noting about it. First of all, a game is as enjoyable as the content remains interesting. It’s dull to fight 100 red blobs, to fight 100 green blobs, to finally progress with the story. Why not just fight 10 red blobs, so you understand the challenge, overcome it, and enjoy the skills you’ve learned briefly, before pushing you to the next part of the game, this surely would be more enjoyable. There is something to be said about combat challenges, too few, and it feels like what you learn isn’t put into use, until you finally have mastered the aspect of combat introduced (either pattern based gameplay of the enemy, or mastery of the interface to produce the most satisfying or efficient result, for example). A lot of developers put in grinding goals within a game, but all these do is artifically extend the experience. It would also be dull to hand it all to you, otherwise you may as well have a book, or movie, hence why some time must be spent earning the next part of the game. It is an interactive experience, afterall.
But what if it’s too easy to get to the next part of the game? If your character moves too fast, the controls feel daunting and difficult to tame, and you may not have enough time to fully comprehend or experience and event within the game. If there was a lot of time spent on that scenery, that backdrop, that song, you won’t let it sink in, and it will all feel like a blur. If the dialogue is blunt, theres no characterization or flavor to the story or surroundings, and every person feels like a robot. On the other hand, if your character moves too slow, the controls feel sluggish and unresponsive, so there is a fine line here. If the combat or puzzles are too easy, who is to say the game you should be playing should even be a game? Again, you’d be stuck with a story or experience best left to a movie or book.
On top of that, what if the game is about the journey, and not the goal? It seems quite silly to artificially shorten an experience that could be fully enjoyed without the need of a challenge to be overcome. What if the experience is merely moving around in an environment, letting the sights and sounds overcome you, would it be enjoyable to tell a person to see Niagra Falls or the Grand Canyon for only a short moment, before pushing them to go eat at a truck stop? Too little time spent can be aggrivating if something is enjoyable as it is, the same thing could be said for a game, what if the player enjoys killing slimes, what if you were to let them fight one slime, and never again? Surely that could be frustrating to someone who just barely learned to overcome fighting one.
A lot could be said about the amount of time you spend in a game, but is every 80 hour game enjoyable? Should each game give you a cliffnotes version of itself, only glossing over the simple details of what is happening? Obviously neither is the case, and there is a fine line to draw. Occassionaly a game is perfectly fine lasting five minutes, or 150 hours. As long as the player experiences exactly what they needed to, and not anything more or less. Or you’ll be that old man, pondering about where all his time went.