Written by: Danny Baram, Special to CC2K
It was a strange year for me and videogames. I was more backlogged than ever. Sitting in my bookshelf were titles like Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider, just begging to be played. And yet, due to a combination of factors, I probably enjoyed less videogames than ever before. Am I just getting old? I’m not yet married and don’t yet have kids, but I’m finding it harder and harder to immerse myself in the kinds of late-night gaming sessions during which I traditionally get in the bulk of my play time. I’m not any less interested in gaming. I still love games, and I still am passionate about the industry and the artform.
What I realized is that games are hard. And I’m not talking difficulty level. I’m talking about hard to fit in within an increasingly compartmentalized lifestyle. Like many of my fellow pop-culture junkies out there, the only way I can fit in all of the media I’m into in my life is to very carefully budget my time. If I have 22 minutes to spare, then great, I can fit in a new episode of Parks and Recreation. If have 44 minutes to spare, then I can squeeze in an episode of Justified or The Walking Dead. On a Sunday morning, I can allow myself a half-hour to read through a couple of chapters in a book, or a few new comic books, before getting out of bed and starting my day. But games? Games don’t quite fit into a neatly-planned routine. To me, they’re best enjoyed when you can set aside a few hours, forget about all outside distractions, and just play at your own leisure. Unfortunately, those precious evenings when I’ve got all the time in the world come few and far between these days. And when they do come, I (sadly) all too often find myself asleep on the couch before I’ve even scratched the surface of a new game.
What’s strange is that games I loved as a kid would actually be much more amenable to an adult’s busy schedule. I could breeze through a level of Mega Man or a world of Mario before dinner, and within a week I could play through a whole NES game. But today’s titles are giant, sprawling, seemingly never-ending affairs. I’ve barely got time to get through The Last of Us, let alone see every nook and cranny of Skyrim.
To that end, I’ll more and more find myself gravitating towards quick-play games like this year’s WWE2K14. I can get home from a long day at work, fire up the game’s “30 Years of Wrestlemania” mode, and move on to the next battle in ten or fifteen minutes. Similarly, fighting games are a great way to get a sense of accomplishment in a short burst. Especially when the games have an involving story like this year’s Injustice. I’ll often pick that instead of something like Tomb Raider, because it is easier and less intimidating to knock out a couple of quick rounds of superhero fighting than embark on Tomb Raider’s giant-sized quests.
And yet … big, immersive, cinematic games like Tomb Raider and The Last of Us are among my favorites. When I think about the possibilities of the medium, these are the games that seem to be stretching the limits of what videogames can do. I want games to continue to present us with multidimensional characters, innovative storylines, and fully fleshed-out worlds to explore. To me, The Last of Us is the kind of game that (hopefully) represents where the medium is going, not Angry Birds.
But why can’t we have the best of both worlds? I think it’s time that game developers figured out how to deliver these great, involving, epic games in more manageable portions. Think about a great TV show like Breaking Bad. It’s consumed in 44 minute installments, but it all adds up to a much larger whole – a long, epic storyline, but told episodically. Games right now are not designed to be consumed in digestible chunks. We’re starting to see more episodic releases – like Telltale’s Walking Dead game. And man, I loved The Walking Dead and named it 2012’s Game of the Year. But one “episode” of that game was still a multi-hour commitment. At the movies, we deem a movie too long if it stretches past the two-hour mark. Games that go for 15, 20, 30 hours just seem extravagantly lengthy – especially now that we’re not kids with whole weekends to waste away.
More and more, I hear people talk in terms of gamers vs. non-gamers. To me, that’s a little silly, and sort of sad. When I was an eight year old kid playing Super Mario Bros. on my NES, I didn’t go around proclaiming myself a gamer. I just loved videogames, as did everyone else I knew. But now, the people who grew up playing games are playing less and less. Why? Because the games industry has increasingly ghettoized itself, making gaming into a hobby that can only be kept up with by the hardest of the hardcore. People who have lives and jobs and families find time to fit in movies and TV shows, but games tend to take a backseat because they are, now, more of a commitment than ever. I am case in point – I love games and have definitely not lost interest with age. But I have lost a good deal of interest in 20+ hour mega-games that require months of one’s life to complete.
What’s interesting is that games are, more than ever, emulating movies and TV in terms of their presentation. But they are still stuck in the 90’s where there’s that mentality of “more=better.” I think it may date back to when CD-based games boasted of the amount of content that was packed onto the disc. I remember before then, it’d be the rare game like Final Fantasy or other JRPG’s that boasted about length. Now, every game does it.
Mark my words – when a great game on the level of a Mass Effect or Uncharted comes along that delivers compelling, immersive content in TV episode-style, half-hour or hour-long chunks, it will catch on like wildfire. I’m 31, and I think my peers and I would appreciate games that we can enjoy and play all the way through in the decades between now and retirement. I guess that’s when I’ll finally catch up on Final Fantasy XIII.