Playing The Long Game

If you follow the game-writing blog world, you not infrequently encounter critics talking about how the whole thing of contemporary games usually sucking up a bunch of hours to play as problematic. They talk about how this is repetition for repetition’s sake and does the art-form side of games a disservice.

The common rejoinder, or at least straw-man argument, is that games are long because gamers want to get value for money out of them. Nobody wants to pay sixty bucks for Bioshock 2, say, and then only have a three hour experience – that would be $20 an hour. Shitty value to the point that the game is probably being paid better than the player.

I’m assuming there’s merit to both sides of this (and the many other positions that can be taken) – after all, these are smart people. And, honestly, I don’t care all that much about how long games are – I usually grind them down anyway, not necessarily enjoying the endlessness (as per the arguing against), but glad that the game carries on (as per arguing for). But the reason I like games being long is maybe different.

I like games that are long because they make me stick around in the world after I’ve registered the period of “wow! fuck! this world is crazy amazing!” (as in, say, Bioshock or Red Dead Redemption). I don’t dispute that those early hours in those games (and others) are the most special from a straight up aesthetic experience perspective, but I also find the ensuing grind valuable. For one thing, you earn certain experience through time that can’t be achieved otherwise. My ride into Blackwater in Red Dead Redemption was poignant because I’d spent so long riding/grinding through the Wild West of the game and then came to see the signs of my (John’s) obsolescence in the new city.

Also, and perhaps more specifically because I spend so much time thinking about games rather than “just” playing them, spending bloody ages in a game that’s already moved beyond its “peak enjoyment” phase is important to me specifically because it’s good thinking time. As Bioshock 2 rolls on, for instance, I’m finding it rewarding just to be still in the world, still looking at it and noticing things about the nature of the game that I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up on had it ended after some “agreeable” number of hours.

It’s kind of like “replay value” except you’re still playing it for the first time.

9 August 2010
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