I played a game that lasted only 10 minutes and it was glorious. It also cost me five bucks. Yes: I am saying that a game that amounts to one dollar per two minutes was worth the investment.
In fact I was so struck by how short the game was, I couldn't help but wonder why we don't have more games in a commercial setting that only last 10, fifteen minutes if played in their entirety. Not games we can play for a few minutes and put down: games that last a few minutes, period.
That game that sparked these thoughts would be the experimental Thirty Flights of Loving, the follow-up to Brendon Chung's indie darling, Gravity Bone. It's a tale of heist gone horribly wrong for a band of criminal schemers, which we have to piece together after a series of smaller, fast paced vignettes and montages.
Chung calls a "first person short story". This is an apt description. A short story, after all, is something that hones in on just a few things and often concentrates on mood instead of the plot. Thirty Flights and its refusal to give the player too much information-which works beautifully for stringing the player along-and its quirky aesthetic and tone fits the bill of a "short story". You can't quite figure out the exact details and context of the plot. But the mood and feel of the game is still carried well.
It reminded me of how recently, I've been reading a whole lot of the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Not his novels — his short stories. I was hooked, and the length had everything to do with it. No filler. Just pure, condensed story — there's no having to read through hundreds of pages to understand 'the point' of what I was reading. Fantastic. I'm a busy person. I don't have time for garbage.
And if the media I'm consuming isn't worth my time, then I move on to the next tab, the next song, the next YouTube clip. Whatever delivers. But there's always something next on the docket.
Notice a pattern here? Length. Speed. Moving forward to the next thing — because we're all hungry for information and our lives are a daily struggle to cram as much in it as possible, in the least amount of time possible.
Many of us bemoan that games are getting shorter and shorter, some of us would even like our games to never end. But maybe we're ignoring the fact that this shortening is happening to media-at-large and it's something that we actually like, speaking generally.
And why wouldn't we like it? Constant stimulation feels...good. Compulsive. At times maybe lacking depth, but good.
Many of the games that will come to top GOTY lists this year, I suspect, will be shorter games. Journey. Walking Dead. Fez. Papo & Yo. Just to name a few.
It's not the length that will give these titles the ability to contend for the top prize, of course. Nobody is going to award a game a prize for being short. But being short means that a game has to be conscientious of how it asks us to spend our time, and to be, above all, punchy. Shorter games have to be better games — or else. We might be willing to forgive a longer game for segments that drag on, but a shorter game is burned at the stake for the mistake.
A shorter game forces a developer to focus on only the aspects of a game worth including and experiencing. It's no surprise that titles like The Walking Dead feel tight and well-paced. There's nothing superfluous in it. And, should it be that the game is actually drivel? Well, it was short — you didn't have to suffer through it for too long and, ideally, didn't spend much money on it either.
Consider, too, that not only is our free time disappearing as we are all getting older — according to the ESA's average gamer age, anyway — but stats show that we just plain don't finish most of the games we play. So why do we keep asking for them to be longer and longer when the truth is that most of us don't have the extra time for it, and if we did, we're not even finishing the games anyway?
Give me more shorter games. Longer games have their place, and I don't want them to go away. But I also want to feel that my time is respected, and I want to play as many games as possible. Maybe you do too.