Why are video games so long?

persona-save

If I had to guess, I’d say about 60% of video games are too long. Your typical game takes anywhere from 20-30 hours to complete, which can stretch out over weeks and even months for the average player. This is, obviously, an enormous time commitment. But when compared to other narrative driven arts, it’s completely ridiculous. A comic book takes ten minutes or so to read, a trade or graphic novel about 45 minutes. A movie generally runs between 90 minutes and two hours. A 300 page novel takes the average reader about six hours to finish. A season of a television show is around ten hours in length. Your average video game is double that, but expect to at least triple or quadruple it if you’re playing an RPG. I recently started Dragon Quest VII on 3DS, but I have no plans to actually finish it, because according to the aggregator How Long to Beat? the game takes anywhere from 70104 hours depending on the version you play.

Many games could easily be chopped in half without losing much, if any, of the narrative or gameplay experience. Characters talk too much, cutscenes drag on far too long and are often unskippable. RPGs, particularly JRPGs, expect you to grind, adding hours and hours to gameplay. Save points are often placed far from difficult or tricky sections, causing the player to needlessly repeat easier sections. These mechanics are often intentional, to ensure that the game is artificially long, to give the consumer the feeling of getting their money’s worth. This counterintuitive thinking negatively affects both the designer and the vast majority of the players.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason why retro gaming is so popular today. When playing via Virtual Console or some other form of emulation–be it through hardware such as the Retro Freak or Retron 5, or an anthology like Mega Man Legacy Collection–the player has a modicum of control over wasting his or her time. Save states quickly solve problems listed above. I recently played through Another World/Out of This World (a game already fairly liberal with its restarting points) in a few hours one Friday night by using a save state before any obstacles I found tricky or overly long.

If video games are going to evolve as an artistic medium and gain traction in the narrative vernacular, they must become more accessible. While some 40-60 hour narratives such as the Dragon Quest or Persona series should be welcomed; shorter, compact experiences like Inside–which tells an entertaining story while building a rich, terrifyingly real dystopian world in a scant four hours–should be produced far more instead of being a pleasant outlier.

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