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Now, this article is a little on the short side, only 855 words, prior to me adding this intro. But I hope you don’t discount it because of that. I think there’s a decent amount of content in those words.
This last week, footage from The Order 1886 was leaked in the form of an allegedly full gameplay through. Apparently the game is extremely short, which reignited the tired old topic of how long videogames should be.
Admittedly, I haven’t watched the playthrough. Amidst all this talk of time, I don’t intend on wasting mine. But articles I’ve read put the game at about five and a half hours, and frankly anyone who has that much time to spend watching what we all already knew was gonna be a shite game should probably not be complaining that they don’t have enough ways to waste their time.
But I digress. I’m not here to judge, I’m here for the next worst thing, to editorialize. Most of what I could write about this situation Jim Sterling already beat me to this morning. But there is something I feel doesn’t get understood about the very nature of games. Ascribing runtimes to them is, by their nature, complete nonsense.
Videogames aren’t like film or TV, they don’t have any set, definite time elapse between turning them on and watching the credits role. Your typical TV show? Thirty minutes per episode, twenty-two if you get it on DVD. A movie? Well I just picked The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya of my shelf and looked at the back, and it said one hundred sixty-four minutes. Gonna take a shot in the dark, I’m guessing it is one hundred and sixty-four minutes.
We can see this with other media formats too. When I pick up a book in a store, I can immediately see how thick it is and how large the pages are, peek inside to see the page count and font size, and evaluate how long it will take me to read. With manga I can check the amount of text per page, and how intricate the art is. Hell, even with paintings we can assume a roughly 3 second view time, unless it’s something by Boris Vallejo, in which case just use your standard masturbation time.
But videogames aren’t quite in either of these camps, are they? They don’t have the set length of audio and video playback, and their density isn’t immediately visible to the consumer.
I find it funny that, despite how fast gamers can be to point out the merits of player agency in games, and how that supposedly makes them a higher art form (which is total bullshit), they often forget about it in other circumstances. Videogames have no specific or general runtime because of player agency, because people play them differently.
If you want the runtime of Pokémon Snap, I can give you two different answers. About one hour, the amount of time it takes me to beat the game, or about fifteen years, the amount of time I’ve spent playing the game. Fallout 3 can be a pretty damn short game if you just play start to finish, but a pretty damn long game if you let yourself get distracted every time you see an undiscovered marker on the map or have an incomplete side-quest. I’ve sunk more hours into Game Dev Tycoon then I have in Dragon Age. I’d say the play time of Bayonetta is around eight hours, if you play on easy difficulty, but infinite climax mode would be more like fifty hours. Speedruns have proven that the play time for any game is about three seconds. Meanwhile, my mom’s proven that it’s about ten years. How long is Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Hearthstone, or Titanfall?
My first playthrough of LoZ Wind Waker was probably only around a couple hours. My latest playthrough was a couple days of near non-stop playing, and that was with all the timesaving features added to the WiiU HD remake.
Yes, you can replay movies and reread books too, but it’s not the same. When you reread a book, you will probably get some more out of it, but for the most part you are retreading the same ground. When you replay Bayonetta 2, however, you can adapt a different playstyle and have a completely different experience.
I’m not saying there’s nothing to play times. If Activision sold me a game where the title screen just said, “Press A to roll credits,” I’d be pretty pissed, and I would hope any review of the game mentioned that little flaw. But what’s really lacking there? Play time? Yes, but more fundamentally. Content.
Play time is subjective. It varies depending on playstyle, skill, difficulty setting, and how much a person would replay the game. Content isn’t subjective. If Activision or any other company released a game like that, the games sites’ headlines wouldn’t be, “New Call of Duty is a Little Short”, they’d be “Where the Fuck is the Game?”
So gamers, and game critics who need to review these things, stop being concerned about play time, because play time does not exist. Talk about content, and talk about it in a clear effective way so that people know what they are getting and how much they personally will get out of it.
Don’t Lose Your Way.