I'm Falling In Love With Long Video Games Again

I'm Falling In Love With Long Video Games Again

I used to be really into the perfect "five-hour" game. These weren't necessarily games that took five hours to complete, but it was always somewhere around that length of time that made it feel like the right amount of enjoyment without overstaying its welcome.

I'm talking about games like the original Portal or even experiences like P.T. that feel like they succinctly get across what's great about them. They're the leaner, healthier cuts of meat. Between the now-hundreds of indie releases and the big fall schedules and just work and life in general, the five-hour games have become a coveted brand of fun that I felt respected my time. I sought out the short darlings like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and I was drawn to the episodic nature of games like The Walking Dead. I bounced happily through Transistor in a day and felt productive. And even Mark of the Ninja, though a bit longer, was the perfect length game for that one time I was too sick to go into work but just sick enough to lay in bed with my controller for roughly eight hours. Five-hour games became my bread and butter.

Five-hour games let me stay in touch with what people were talking about without occupying too much of my time all at once. I loved five-hour games, and I was happy to consume nothing but them for some time.

I've never quite forgotten my love for games with side quests and special weapon incentives that would take you ten times as long to finish. But there's a certain level of commitment they demand that sometimes makes me apprehensive to start them. I ended up loving Dark Souls II, but I knew I'd never have the time to finish it between travel and life obligations. I craved the short and sweet that would leave me time to read the next novel on my list or the new comic series I'd just gotten into.

I'm Falling In Love With Long Video Games Again

Last night, I finally started playing Diablo III on my PS4 and remembered something critical about my taste in games: I remembered that I love RPGs. I might spend a few rounds in a shooter blowing off some steam after a particularly long day, but there's nothing quite like getting invested in one character who lives in one world. As I walked over bridges connecting areas and warped through one world to the next, killing the undead, I thought about what it was I loved about RPGs all this time.

I love talking to villagers and quest-givers to run through as many dialogue options as the game will give me. I love walking to the very edge of a level just to make sure I reveal its boundaries on the map and to open every chest or destroy every box and bench. I love meeting new people and discovering new places and new stories. I love dressing up my character in tiny cute boots just to ditch them for the next pair I find on a few enemies and a few paces up ahead.

What I love most about the experience of an RPG -- those long and supposedly gruelling rides where you intermittently have to deal with some grinding and some fetching -- is the investment. My character has a face. She has an identity and a style. I spent 20 minutes on my town flag, and I would have spent more on the individual details of her face and physique had I had that option. I manoeuvre her over to places of danger as she befriends new characters and grows in her experiences with them. She gets stronger, she learns new abilities, she perfects them.

Inevitably, I develop a real relationship with these kind of games. They become a constant in my life that I can turn to, secure in the knowledge that my time spent with them will be familiar and almost assuredly fun. While the five-hour games were fun flings I can tell my friends about, the long RPGs with depth are the ones I turn to night after night, after a rough day or a bad argument. They're the games I trust to bring me back to normalcy when I'm not quite feeling it anymore. They're the games I can relax back into, knowing that I'm journeying ahead and exploring the relationship even further. As the days and my mood change, the long games change subtly with me.

I'm Falling In Love With Long Video Games Again

There's a certain point in every adult person's life, I think, where they turn to reflect on their lifestyle. Maybe they're making a point to work out more, or going for one mediocre online date after another in search of the perfect one, or raising a kid, or starting up a side business, or learning how to cook, or...the lists goes on. In the last few years I've become really determined to improve things about myself that I'd otherwise been too busy to worry about. But those kind of internal reflections don't always suit a gaming lifestyle, no matter what tricks you employ.

Despite all that, and despite my limited time and my growing impatience with finishing games I'm not in love with, there's still nothing quite like sitting down in the comfort of a familiar face, watching as you grow more together and discovering just how far the relationship can go.

I'm still early on in Diablo III. I created a female monk character and have been scourging the evil threats of Sanctuary sometimes for and sometimes with a few NPCs in the game. But I can already tell we have a long road ahead of us, and I'm already daydreaming about the next time I can sit and play again. The sign of a truly significant relationship.

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Comments

    "I used to be really into the perfect “five-hour” game. "

    Then you are exactly what is wrong, and has been wrong for a long time, with the gaming industry Tina...

      Bit harsh. Some of those experiences have been the best ever. Portal was amazing. Games that are padded out too much just aren't fun (WoW, AC4:BF to name a couple)

        I remember being told that Watch Dogs has over 50 hours of content.
        I finished it in 15 hours because I wasn't interested in collecting all that junk filler. Give me a good game (it can be long or short) but cut out all the extra junk in the middle and give me a real story.

          I have played 65 hours and yet to finished it. (not including pvp time) so its Watch Dogs failing that you dont like doing some of the stuff that was clearly included in their estimations? Especially when the side things (like gang hideouts and conveys and the like) are the things that flavour the game. This makes me think of those complaining about Skyrim being too short at seven hours odd, completely ignoring the huge rest of the world around it. And some of use have played it for like 350 hours and still yet to see the end... ALL games are what you make of it yourself, cant blame the games when you dont want to it explore all (or most aspects of it)

          Last edited 04/09/14 1:07 pm

        @sherbert86 Agreed. Also, games aren't inherently better or worse because of the time they consume. A game should be as long as it needs to be.
        Adding superfluous filler can really spoil an otherwise interesting game. Take something like the shoehorned multiplayer in Spec Ops: The Line, for instance.

      Seems a bit harsh... I thought that endless franchising, lack of innovation outside of FPS, forcing people online, selling buggy unfinished products that require 2-weeks' worth of patching but calling it a 'finished product', forced microtransactions in a free-to-play-model, absence of strong central female characters, and a bunch of other actual - you know - bad stuff, may have been considered bigger problems than someone having a preference for shorter, 5-hour games...?

      No not really. I prefer a game to last as long as it needs to be. I don't want to play a 20 hour grindfest. Or FF13.

      Not really, just that everyone has a different definition of perfection. Blaming other people for their taste is hitting the wrong target. To us something like Divinity: Original Sin could be an ideal length but I know people who just wouldn't have the time for it. To my mind, the real thing wrong with the industry is that the executives in charge of it cater to the lowest common denominator and make things that are the fastest to produce since that'll make for the swiftest return on investment.

      After all they don't give a shit what product they make because to them its only a vehicle to make money. They could just as realistically make spark plugs or drain covers for all the investment in the product they have.

      What we need is executives who actually care about the stuff they make but NOT developers in charge of production because then we get ego driven Romero-7-month-or-was-it-3-year-bitch-production-factories that only end in laughable disappointment. People who can legitimately run a business and do it well but who also kind of care a tiny bit about the quality of what they make and think about a little bit more than just how much money it'll make. "Will it be profitable?" is a legitimate business question but if it's the only one then you can end up with substandard output, if you add "Is it good enough?" then you might just get a combination of quality and profit.

      Sadly I think what's needed is a similar thing to politicians and the moral panic around games. Old people to die. When people who grew up playing games end up in charge of businesses, the chances are greater that they'll have at least tried games before and may well have an idea of what a game is beyond "Oh yeah, we make that toy thing about that man who packs things don't we? Packing man or something, I think my kids have one."

      Last edited 04/09/14 12:21 pm

      I'd agree based on that quote, but after that she clarifies it down to a pretty reasonable thing of wanting games that aren't artificially long and are made up of more direct/contained experiences. Not disposable 5 hour 'mainstream' games but things like Portal that grow at a natural rate and then end at the appropriate time before things get old, rather multiplying the amount of easy, normal and hard puzzles in order to pad the game out for 30 hours.
      I know Dead Space was pretty short, but I felt it dragged on at the end. You sort of reach a point where the story plays at half speed and a lot of it is gopher work. BioShock was great but if you asked me why it had to be as long as it was, which wasn't that long, I don't think I'd have a solid answer.

        Spot on, would rather a good game 5 hours long than some bullshit that drags on double or triple adding nothing.

      Valiant Hearts is probably the most emotionally compelling game I've ever played, and it was probably under 5 hours.

        Have you tried Brothers?

          I played the demo, I heard it gets better further on. Been neglecting the hell out of my 360 playing games on the XB1.

            Between that and some of the smaller stuff that Sony put out last generation (which are being remastered for this generation), I really started to appreciate the smaller games.

            Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but something manageable timewise is starting to appeal to me more.

      If there are five hours of game to be played, I don't want to slog through twenty hours to enjoy it.

      Artificially padding content just so that five good hours gets stretched into twenty mediocre hours isn't adding value. It's making something worse to appease people whose definition of value only accounts for time spent and not the quality of that time.

      I'd say that the demand for longer games so that the money spent feels justified is a far greater problem with the gaming industry.

      Pacing is a critical part of most media. Why should it be thrown out the window for video games?

      The real irony is that your attitude is what has been wrong with gaming.

        Oh, so that's what's wrong with gaming. Few. Now I can finally get back to throwing racism and sexism into my lobby public chat. Finally.

          Maybe I am just a bit extra dumb today, but I have no idea what your point is in the context of the discussion?

          That other guy: implied that people who like non-hardcore games are the problem.
          Me: people who think that non-hardcore games are the problem are in fact the problem.
          You: racism and sexism, ahoy!
          Me: say what?

        edit: oops, wrong reply.

        Last edited 05/09/14 3:32 pm

      Most of my favorite games are the short ones. Poral 1 & 2, The Stanley Parable, Antichamber, Dear ether, Jazzpunk. Some games just drag on and I don't have the time for them, though I've been playing a lot of Diablo 3 lately since I bought RoS and I've clocked around 20 hours this week on it.

      I disagree. Some games are perfect at five hours and you can knock them out on a lazy Sunday. Othertimes you want something more engaging.

    God I wish games had longer, better stories. Wolfenstien, Half Life, Tomb Raider, Bastion, etc, etc. All of those games are fantastic with no small thanks to their stories.

      Wolfenstein? Took me a moment to realise you were referring to game(s) somewhat newer than Wolfenstein 3D. I was thoroughly confused for that moment.

        Oh yes I should specify I mean The New Order particularly. Yeah I know what you mean though, the original game wasn't exactly cinematic...

    I can remember when I first bought Metal Gear Solid on PSone. While it's a gem of a game, I knocked it over in a weekend. I felt so ripped off. It was the first time I ever felt a game was too short. I've loved RPGs for a long time because they give me so much to do.

    When I play a story driven action game like TLoU or Uncharted I'm almost too scared to play it for more than half an hour at a time because I'm too scared the ending is gonna be around every corner.

    I'm currently working may way through Risen 3. According to steam, so far I've spent ... 93 hours playing it so far! Proably still a ways to go before I'm done too! Some games just NEED to be long! Others not so much. Really depends on the type of game. I sure as hell wouldn't be too keen on playing a Might and Magic game that only lasted 5 hours. On the other hand, I can't imagine myself playing Portal 2 for 93 hours.

      This is a very good point, games need to be as long as they need to be. Sounds trite but some games really only need to be 5 hours and would feel painfully stretched if any longer and some need to be 40+ and would feel horribly rushed if any shorter.

      Games like Trine, Limbo or Mark Of The Ninja I'd not want to extend any more than they were, they felt like the perfect length for what they did even though they weren't really long games. Not super short by any means but exactly long enough to do what they needed to do. Conversely I finished Divinity: Original Sin in 93 hours, I could probably have cut that down to 80 with less meandering and messing about and a bit more "Oh that's obviously what that clue is pointing to you moron!" but any shorter than that and I think it'd have felt a bit rushed.

      Um wow. Thought it was as bad as Risen 2 personally and for me R2 was utter shite. Wanted a newer Gothic 3 and got R2 expansion instead :( At least someone is getting some fun out of it.

        I get that some people don't quite get Risen. It took me a while for it to really gel with me, but it really is a deep and complex game. Most people seem to bitch about the combat, but it's not your typical button mashing game. It really requires you to plan out your actions and run away if you're getting your ass kicked! Sure the games can be buggy, but I've been fortunate enough to not come across any game breakers. I think what I love most about them, is just exploring the world! Nothing procedurally generated, all done by hand, and it really shows. There's so much to find in their games!

          I really liked Risen 1 and loved the Gothic games but R2 and 3 just seemed average at best. And I was really looking forward to R3 after they touted it was like a more modern Gothic. It wasnt..

    Each game has the potential to be what a person will need at some point of time in their gaming life.

    It's just a matter of who, and when.

    I think I just reached Nirvana.

      Woah, that's deep!

      Hang on, does that even include C&C Generals because that thing was a piece of shit

      Oh wait, one day I might need to be super pissed off that I paid $90 for that piece of shit and it lasted less than 24 hours installed on my hard drive before I wiped it and that anger might just be the thing that helps in a critical situation!

      Woah, that's deep!

        Frisbee's are also a thing. True story.

        And there was that mission where you have to get your single special character from one side of the map to the other I was able to complete in around a minute because QA for that game was non-existent.

          Well to be fair, you were able to complete it... They at least made sure you could do that much. Sure they didn't bother to make sure you needed more than 2 clicks to do it and half of those clicks were selecting the single mission critical unit...

        The problem is that you paid $90 for it. I got it as part of the CnC First Decade release for something like $60 and I really enjoyed it. It's quite different in many respects from other CnC games (but is more similar to other CnC than to Blizzard's RTSs), but I don't have a problem with that.

    I feel longer games end up being more value for money but some companies use "filler" content or make you grind every last step. Give me a game that keeps me moving, keeps things happening and it can be as huge as Skyrim or as short as Journey.

      I think the filler stuff is what gets to me. That's why I could never get in to Oblivion. I loved the world, and I loved the type of game it was, but once I destroyed the 4th portal, and realized there were like 40 more of them, I lost interest. I can't put those kind of hours in to doing the same thing over and over again! At least with Risen 3, and Gothic, the action keeps you moving on, without feeling repetitive. Sure at times it might be a simple "go here, get this, come back", but at least it has variety in what you get, or who you meet, so it doesn't feel like the same task!

    To me, there's a huge difference between buying a JRPG for 90 bucks and buying an FPS for around the same price. Do I buy the six-to-eight hour shooter that probably has a terrible story and relies entirely on its multiplayer to sell units, or do I buy the sixty hour long JRPG that, while it probably recycles some content from time to time (monster reskins), is going to be sitting in my console for a lot longer?

    Just my opinion. Your average triple-A blockbuster holds no interest over me these days. I tossed up between getting Titanfall and Tales of Xillia 2 this week, and went for Xillia 2 because I knew I'd get the most game time out of it.

    But then, Cave Story is one of my favourite games ever, and I finished that in roughly six hours. Perhaps it just depends on the value of the game to me, in the end.

    It also depends on how much time you have available to actually play games! I only have 3-4 hours a week at the minute, so playing 100 hour game is going to take me a long time so doesn't really appeal.

    I remember a time when the perfect 5-hour game was actually the perfect 9-hour game (ie. Up until a few years ago). Funnily enough, I've actually gone the other way for the past month or so. I lived, breathed, ate and slept RPGs, but now I'm having a binge on short-burst games. That being said, I'm currently in a Saint's Row marathon (2 - 4) and those games are a little longer than 9 hours but are more action packed than RPGs.

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