How Fast Should We Play Games?

My obsessive-compulsive tics suggest less of a "personality" disorder and more of a "She's probably just crazy" disorder.

I systematically eat fries and small lollies two at a time as if programmed from birth, regularly disinfect my DS despite being the only who uses it, and, about every two minutes, check to make sure no one is behind me.

It also took me three years to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy – not because I lack the mental competence to read quickly, but because I refused to miss any details and frequently paused to imagine myself in the middle of the action. Tolkien gave me a masterpiece. I wanted to make it last.

I do the same with many video games, spending weeks, even months playing through story and character-driven titles. Hey, I paid good money for these games and the developers spent a lot of time creating these worlds for my enjoyment. I want to get the full experience.

Similarly, hunting down all of the logs in Bioshock, Dead Space and Batman: Arkham Asylum not only extends gameplay, but provides a much more extensive understanding of these virtual worlds and the characters inhabiting them. Same with the interoffice messages in F.E.A.R., the funny scribbles on the walls in Left 4 Dead and the manuscript pages in Alan Wake.

However, many GameStop customers I encountered during my time as a retail register monkey did not feel the same way. I remember one guy buying Shadow of the Colossus off my recommendation, then returning it six hours later saying, "It was OK I guess, but way too short." My boss stepped in after I accused the customer of probably watching Memento with the sound off.

Obviously you can't instruct people on how to enjoy art. Everyone sees it differently. But with many of today's video games proving to be incredible storytelling vessels, how much of our time should we give them?

Many games contain hidden story information that takes time to be sought out. That's evident in Borderlands. "The most interesting story in the game, to me, was the Patricia Tannis logs," Borderlands' creative director with great hair, Mikey Neumann, when I asked about his game's best-kept secrets, the stuff that made the game worth taking in a little more slowly. "From the moment she steals a dead man's more-comfortable chair to the death of Chimay and onward to her break up and reconciliation with the tape recorder, she told a great story on the edges of a totally crazy game. Then the level designers went off and hid all the echo recordings really well. Bastards."

Even waiting through ending credits often rewards patient players with epilogue scenes. Ico is one example of having post-credits content that fills a pretty important plot hole.

Despite all of the extras and side quests provided in many titles, some people still speed through them. Is this the result of impatient gamers in an instant-gratification world or the fault of developers for not making games on which people want to spend time?

Perhaps some of it is due to developers becoming victims of their own creativity. The more you offer a gamer, the more they're going to expect.

For the most part, games on early consoles were more focused on challenging the player's dexterity as opposed to telling a story, i.e. Contra, Mega Man and Battletoads. The goal was to get from beginning to end swiftly and skilfully while racking up as many points as possible. Players rarely cared about game length, because length wasn't figured into quality – if it was a good game, it was a good game. If it was bad, it was bad. You never hear anyone complain that Super Mario Bros 3 was too short.

It's a different mindset to consider yourself responsible not only for skill, but for everything your character does. In the Uncharted series, story practically takes precedence over gameplay, giving us the perfect example of a video game rivalling a motion picture. This further proves that games are no longer simply about creating a challenge; they're about creating a whole new, immersive universe. This transition from simple to expansive should alter the way we play – it's the difference of seeing your game as a toy and seeing it as a piece of fiction you can get lost in.

I always joke that true gamers see on their map where they're supposed to go, and then go the opposite way. Be it RPG, FPS, RTS or any other genre, attention to detail and a desire to absorb everything a game has to offer is a commendable mentality – not to mention a great way to get the most bang for your buck.

Two of my favourite achievements/trophies of all time are from Prince of Persia 4 for locating the Assassin and Titanic viewpoints. These awards are not given for skill, but for simply taking time to gaze upon the breathtaking scenery. I consider this a great reminder that no matter how good or bad the game, I should always take time to stop and smell the virtual roses.

Lisa Foiles is best known as the former star of Nickelodeon's award-winning comedy show, All That. She currently works as a graphic designer and writes for her game site, Save Point. For more info, visit Lisa's official website.


Comments

    Good article Lisa. I'm with you on this one as well. Generally, the first time i play through a single-player game, I only play it on medium, so I can stop and enjoy every detail. I also like to take my time with games, collecting all of the little bits and bobs scattered within.

    I'm a huge 'lore nerd' when it comes to this stuff, and I'm ecstatic that you mentioned L4D. I'm actually really interested to know the 'story' in L4D, which is only really told through the writings on the walls and small clips of dialogue from the players. You really need to concentrate on everything or you could miss something big!

    "I always joke that true gamers see on their map where they’re supposed to go, and then go the opposite way"

    I wouldn't call that a joke, I'd call that a fact. Following the story of a game is important, but focusing on it alone means you miss all the extra stuff that makes a game that much better.

      Of course this is more than just detail. There is a very real advantage in many games of seeking out obscure corners of a level. Rare weapons, XP or even just a health kit lurk around every hidden corner.

    I think 2 things influence the speed-play that we can probably agree is on the rise:

    1. Publisher jargon seeping into our understanding of what a game is worth. They use their in-house metrics to describe the game in press releases to promise value for money, by trying to measure the content of a videogame with time. I'm not convinced that's a good way to measure games at all. Final Fantasy games take a long time to finish, but that doesn't make them any less painful and unsatisfying (for me) to play.

    2. Achievements: there was quite a furore amongst game theorists and some developers about Jesse Schell's now infamous talk on external reward systems. I am pretty staunchly against them, because they do seem to detract from why most gamers played games in the first place. They are an artificial means of measuring one's progress in the larger gamer social world, a way to one-up each other even in non-competitive games. Therefore, once you hit a platinum trophy you're 'done' with the game regardless of how much you understood or enjoyed it. By placing a value on the completeness of a play through, developers have (and gamers have agreed) to DE-value anything that isn't progress towards a visible reward that goes on their 'permanent record.' Following that, there is evidence to suggest that adding these kinds of external rewards actually causes people to do/play/whatever less of that activity than they would do without the reward scheme. (http://www.jesperjuul.net/ludologist/?p=925)

    Good on you, Lisa, for going your own way and savouring a game that you enjoy for the sake of enjoyment.

      Not sure I entirely agree with you on achievements. I followed through with the link you gave and understand the idea but I think it stems from achievements done badly.

      For instance some FPS's (Killzone, Resistance) reward you for finding intel which you can read to flesh out your knowledge of the game world. It's something I would have wanted anyway but enshrining it in achievements mean I can better track where I might have missed something.

      On the other hand players who *don't* want to read them will collect them for achievements and may spare a second to glance at them. Granted a large percentage of those might just shrug and move on but isn't it worth it to bring a few more players into the detail-loving fold?

        Yeah, I tend to agree David. But there is this tendency to replace compelling gameplay with an achievement that 'forces' a player to do certain tasks, for some other reason than the fun/enjoyment/pleasure of it. The achievement system should always be an after-thought, a symptom, a result, not a cause. I should be climbing all the tall buildings in Assassin's Creed because they look cool, not because I'll get a gold star on my gamerID if I do.

    I'm a tragic must complete 100% kinda guy, so I tend to see all there is to see, I find it increase the value of a title too. Maybe the appeal lies in the challenge that has now given way to the story.

    I want to see everything, but it's those damned publishing companies - if I stop too long, I'll be crushed under a tidal wave of summer releases.

    I also had that problem with LotR especially Fellowship which took me over a year to read. Probably because it says something like "And then they saw some elves walking through the forest" and I'd spend the next hour imagining some elves in a forest and what would the trees look like and then maybe they have a tea party with the elves and oh wait next sentence.

    I often wonder if people are missing important aspects of game by skipping story. For instance if you rush through F.E.A.R you will completely miss the impact of the last level which, imho, hinges around the discovery you just made and how you feel about that. If you skipped the story that last level wouldn't be nearly as terrifying, and I wonder is this why some people rate certain games higher than others because the other people missed important information.

    yes, that's exactly what I do.
    "take the time to stop and smell the virtual roses."

    I'm gonna memorise that.

    but btw, I finished shadow of the colossus in 10 hours, and I reeeeaaaally stretched it as far as I could,
    I mean, I checked every square feet of the world, and still I completed it in 10 hours.

    Then I played it again and completed the entire game in an hour or 2, seriously, that game is very short, even if you take the time (to smell the virtual roses).

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