Cranky Old Man Ramblings: Video Games and Free TimeApril 1, 2008
Okay, so maybe I’m not really that old. But considering I’ve been playing video games since practically before I could walk, I think I’m entitled to take up the Cranky Kong position every now and then.
I leafed through this post at 1up called “Why People Don’t Finish Games Anymore” and figured I’d post on something I’ve wanted to write about for a little bit. Whether it’s generally true that people don’t finish games compared to the SNES days or not, I have no idea, but it’s personally relevant to me, for most of the reasons listed in the article – some games have too much content, others too much grinding, others simply don’t work, and I have more work (and more income) compared to the grade school days where I could reliably count on getting maybe five games a year – but less time to play them. Well said, Ms. Oxford. But for me that’s hardly where the discussion starts.
I tend to experience video games in one of two ways. If it’s a game that is ultimately skill-driven – something where I aim to get more technically proficient, usually in order to dominate my friends – then I’ll pick it up and play for as long as I feel like. These games are really where my heart lies, for the most part; I prefer the “game” part of “video game”. This isn’t just because I like winning, though – it’s also because the experience is, by its very nature, brief. If I’m by myself, I’ll mess around in Capcom vs. SNK 2‘s training mode for 15 minutes or 50. I can play Bleach 2 DS on a train and not feel like I’m interrupted every time I have to turn it off and transfer. These kinds of games require very little of time to make an experience – I don’t have to make time for them.
The other category of games are largely plot-driven – while there’s skill involved in playing through something like Ninja Gaiden DS or Resident Evil 4, my end goal isn’t to get better at slashing up zombie ninjas or anything, it’s to finish the single-player experience. These games require a much more significant minimal investment of time for for me to “warm up”, as it were, and I usually try to finish these in 3-4 sessions if possible. (Incidentally, this is why I’ve sworn off most role-playing games, as most RPGs take at least 20 hours to complete these days, and most of the time I stop caring about whatever is going on after the first twenty minutes. I’m a fickle guy.)
The thing is, the average level of narrative quality still horribly blows in the world of video games. While there are plenty of moments where I sit down and relish a particularly well-designed level or game mechanic that does something that other media could never do to tell a story, those times are the 10%, largely upset by the 90% of the time where I’m either a) impatient or b) embarrassed by how abysmally bad the writing is. Over the past year or so, I’ve found myself watching movies more than usual just because the stories are usually more interesting and thought-provoking (even the bad ones!), and – and this is huge – the entire story can be told in under three hours. This is how I want my games to be. Hello, episodic content. (Also: why I love the Phoenix Wright series.)
To complicate the situation, I am no longer the video game blogging world’s Most Eligible Bachelor (I love you, Shiyuan!), which means that the time I set aside for story-telling is now communal time. There are some people who like watching their significant others play video games, but she is not one of them (and I’m glad, because most of those people are boring. Watching someone get a perfect FF7 save is NOT quality together-time). This means that, ideally, my games need to have a story that is digestible over the course of an evening, more or less, and be an experience that is worth playing and watching. Once again, one of the only games that manages this is the Phoenix Wright series – a case can usually be finished in 2-3 hours or so, and it’s something that can be played fairly easily together. There are some other games that fit here – I watched people play Metal Gear Solid long before I ever picked them up and played myself, and I think the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series might be feasible here too (babygirl loves horror movies; I get nightmares easily). I’d welcome more suggestions in the comments, because frankly, this kind of thing is what makes me slow to adopt new systems.
Incidentally, all of this is one of the major reasons I love my DS. Sure, the dual screen thing is neat, and the touch screen and the mic have their moments. But really, I love that, due to design restrictions or maybe just cartridge space, most games are designed in easily digestible chunks and can be finished in around 10 hours or so. That’s my sweet spot.