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  • Writer's pictureStu

Bigger isn't *always* better.

So, I was sat doom-scrolling my way through everyone's favourite social media-shaped Gateway to Hell a couple of days ago and saw a tweet that just... spectacularly misread the room. Techland - developers of Dying Light and numerous other (often better!) games had tweeted out an exclamatory vomit of misplaced enthusiasm, telling the world with apparent glee that their upcoming, long-delayed magnum opus Dying Light 2 would take 500 hours to complete.

It didn't take long for the inevitable backlash, with gamers everywhere shouting about how such a period of time is just too long to commit to. I don't necessarily entirely agree - but it did cause me to sit back, sip my tea and have a think about my relationship with games that demand a lot of my time. There have been a lot of them.

I don't know how typical my relationship with long games is. If there's one thing that's certain, it's that it seems to change regularly - ebbing and flowing with the length and temperature of the days, and often changing in direct response to whatever I've just played. It's not often that I'll play two long games in a row - more often, I'll split up a couple of longer games with a bunch of shorter indie games between them. I refer to these games as palette cleansers - which feels like a far more dismissive term for them than they often deserve. I often gravitate to longer games in the colder months of the year - when from a biological standpoint, I suppose a good game played on the sofa under the blanket offers an approximation to hibernation that my body seems to crave as I get older.

I know of some people that gravitate toward long games - playing them one after another after another like a chain smoker on an autumn morning. These are the guys who notoriously occupy the water cooler, comparing and contrasting story events, character builds and loadouts - who'll replay the same game again and again with different characters, making different decisions to really find out just how flexible the systems that drive the narratives of their favourite digital experiences are. They're the same people who generally end up being a little bit disappointed when they realise that they don't have as much agency in these games as they'd originally believed. I know them well - I was one of them for a long time. I remember countless conversations in the office over rapidly congealing cups of tea, talking about the different ways to complete the Blood Ties and Wasteland Survival Guide quests in Fallout 3 - and then racing home after one particular chat to see if it was possible, with the right speech skill, to complete the latter one by talking Moira Brown in Megaton out of the whole thing. It turns out it was, and I was as blown away as I was heartbroken to have mercilessly crushed the dreams of the Capital Wasteland's last surviving optimist.

I guess what I'm saying is that I've loved as many long games as I have short ones - with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Fallout 3, Dark Souls and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild all being games that I consider among my absolute all-time favourites, and none of which are 'short' by any objective measurement. So, I don't dislike long games by any means - but in spite of that, a gleeful announcement that a new game will expect 500 hours of my time is not something I'm going to respond to positively. In fact, I find the very prospect of knowing something like this before I even begin a game... exhausting. I guess what I'm saying is that there are varying degrees of 'long.'

I think what people really mean when they say "I don't like long games" isn't as simple as it appears on the surface - peoples' likes and dislikes are rarely binary on an attribute as apparently subjective as this one it. I think the truth is that people don't like games that feel like they outstay their welcome. For some games, this can be a very long time - for others, it starts to creep in after a couple of hours. For my part, I begrudge the time I spent with some long games far more than the time I spent with others - and the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that my developing dislike of long games is rarely purely about their length.

Personally, I'm fed up of games that outstay their welcome. Games that deliver a false ending halfway through, and then, with an overly-enthusiastic (bordering on a defiantly optimistic) exclamation announce that: Wait! It's not finished! There's MORE! Those narrative moments seldom excite me; they normally have the exact opposite effect. While the game's developers want me to cheer and celebrate an opportunity to burn more of my time in the wonderful world they've realised, I normally end up sighing and looking at my watch and then at the pile of un-started games on my shelf... and wonder if I have it within me to summon the enthusiasm to drag my grumpy, middle-aged ass through the next unknown number of hours of the same basic gameplay loop to reach the 'real' ending. I'm certain it's not the response they'd be hoping for.

A generation (or two, I guess!) ago, this wasn't such a problem. Most games would have a narrative conclusion that hit home just before the credits rolled - and then DLC would be offered up post-launch to extend the story. If you'd been into what the game had to say, the option to see more was there. If you'd enjoyed it but had your fill, there was a pretty clear opportunity to underline your experience and walk away. A part of me longs for those days - when a good game would leave me wanting more, rather than breathing a sigh of relief as I watch the last of the credits roll and reach for the uninstall option. The model worked better for me, and it was probably more profitable for developers too. Now, for fear of the 'cut content sold as DLC' accusations that wracked gaming back in the Xbox 360/PS3 era, it feels as though games have maybe swung back a little too far in the opposite direction.

After spending years on the GaaS grind, I've developed a newfound respect for any game that's willing to wander into my life, let me spend 7-15 hours with it and then let me fuck off and play something else without a lingering sense of FOMO. I've got as little interest in pointless padding in video games as I do in books, and games, and TV shows - and I'd honestly rather play something that feels as though it respects my time and leaves me wanting more.

Do you have thoughts on long games or short games? Hit me up on Twitter to share your thoughts.


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