As Xbox quietly adds a new ‘average gameplay time’ feature, Vikki Blake praises short games that can be enjoyed and finished in one or two sittings…
Earlier today, in between the news that Xbox boss Phil Spencer is “disappointed” with Redfall and – not content with upsetting Microsoft – the CMA is now gunning for AI, the PC Xbox app quietly added a new feature. As well as being able to peruse games by, say, genre or co-op features, you can also list collections by average gameplay time, too. And I think it may just be the greatest feature I didn’t know I needed.
That’s not to say that the reasons I want that feature now, as a perpetually knackered adult, are the same as a more carefree version of me may have similarly wanted it, though. A younger me would’ve used this to find the largest, most-time-sapping games available, the kind of games that could justify a painful outlay that was scraped together over many weeks and months. Once upon a time, when my time was my own, and I didn’t have a job or a child or a partner or a dog or much of a social life (ha: as if she has much of one now), the longer a game was, the better. The more bells and whistles and infinite ammo bandanas and cat ears I could unlock with multiple playthroughs, the happier I’d be to adopt a new virtual world and take it home with me.
Today? Not so much. I mean, live service games inevitably sneak their way back in – I don’t know why I keep falling for their glossy hype, either – every now and then, I’ll lose myself in the wide-open worlds of cowboys and assassins and zombie slayers, but I can’t say I get to the end of them that often. The games are too long. The competition is too great. And I seemingly have neither the bandwidth nor the attention span to make it all the way to the end.
Does it make financial sense to buy shorter games? Not really, particularly if you’re buying them digitally. The fiscally responsible adult in me concurs with 12-year-old Vik that the more time I can wring out of the game, the better. But it feels like I’ve graduated to a weird paradox where the more money I have to “waste” on gaming, the less time I have to play. I am either time-poor or poor-poor, and let’s face it: both of those scenarios are crap. It’s a blatantly unjust contradiction.
Consequently, the older I get and the more truncated my gaming sessions become, the more I’m tempted by bite-sized games that offer the kind of one-shot adventures that can be completed over a weekend. That’s not to say I’m always on the lookout for dainty, frivolous experiences with little scope or substance (although there’s nothing wrong with those kinds of games, of course); in fact, some of my favourite horror games have been deliciously brief, delivering sharp slivers of terror that can be finished up in a single sweaty evening.
Actually, I’m of the opinion that one of the most terrifying things a horror game can do is outstay its welcome. Amnesia: The Bunker is out later this month, and while I can’t deny that I’m fizzing with glee, knowing I’ll be creeping through another Frictional Games chiller soon, I’m also desperately hoping that it’s not anywhere near as long as its predecessor, Rebirth. As anyone else who found themselves stuck at the end of Silent Hills: Playable Teaser (P.T.) will attest: too much of a good thing can sometimes be a bad thing.
That said? One of my favourite (and criminally overlooked) games ever – Far: Lone Sails – was completed in a single sitting. Its sequel, Far: Changing Tides, only took one or two nights more. And even though I loved every single second of them – even though I honestly couldn’t get enough of their gentle puzzles and soaring soundscapes and peculiarly melancholic set-pieces – I didn’t need them to be a single second longer, either. For the first game, in particular, its condensed runtime was undoubtedly part of its charm. How special it is to pick up your controller, disappear into a world where your tiny red jacket is the one speck of colour in an otherwise grey, ominous place, only to re-emerge three hours later, blinking and shellshocked, eyes still sore from the tears you didn’t realise you’d shed.
Of course, a game’s length is no more a signifier of quality than its cover art (or even its gameplay trailer – but that’s a topic for another day, my friend), and there are as many brilliant lengthy games as there are terrible one-shot ones. No, no one’s asking us to speedrun these stories, and there’s absolutely no shame in scouring a make-believe world so long, and so carefully, you come to know as well as you know your own home. But sometimes? Sometimes, the best part of getting a new game is knowing that there’s an ending to it.
Vikki Blake has a column every week here at whynow Gaming. You can read her previous dispatch here.