Like the editors of Cosmopolitan, we in the games industry have a rather unhealthy obsession with size. We like numbers, and we always have, going back to the days of cart sizes and 32 bits versus 64, right up to today's RAM and Blu-ray storage figures. The larger the numbers are, the better. For some perverse reason this logic carries into the gameplay, where far too often the mantra is "bigger is better" - regardless of quality.
I read with great interest John Funk's column - and the ensuing comments - on his reluctance to play Mass Effect 2 because of its length. So many people were not only unable to empathize with his position, but were outright hostile towards it - suggesting that being intimidated by a game's size is some kind of basic deficiency on his part.
Well I, at least, can empathize. I am very curious to see what ME2 is like as a game - 96 averages on Metacritic will do that to a person - but I am reluctant to start it. The reason is not just because I have yet to finish Dragon Age: Origins (my interest evaporated overnight at around the 18 hour mark), but because I barely got six hours into the first Mass Effect.
Now, I did not think Mass Effect was a bad game - far from it, the production values were off the scale, and I welcome any attempt to bring storytelling to the videogaming masses. As a project, I stand behind its virtues 100 percent. But at the risk of sounding like the kind of ADD-riddled moron gamer I should hate, for me the 8-hour campaign of a game like Modern Warfare, paced to perfection with barely a dull 30 seconds in between, has become a far more desirable experience.
Coming from someone who listed Shenmue in their best games of the last decade this may come off as slightly hypocritical, but times have changed, and I have changed with them. Faced with a combination of age, experience and, most importantly, ennui from seeing the same basic mechanics over and over again, a very real psychological barrier exists to getting involved in something that is going to take 30 hours of my life.
This seems counter-intuitive, as your patience threshold should increase with age, but I'm going to chalk this one up to the greater freedom that a steady income brings. In other words, why pretend to be sexing up hot alien women when I could hit the town and try it on real ones? There are also the staid responsibilities that also come with getting older, quite often the result of the aforementioned encounters. (Wouldn't it be quite interesting to see gaming's most realistic Lothario, Shepherd himself, deal with an unexpected pregnancy?)
But more to the point, exactly why is 30 or 40 hours considered to be necessary to involve someone in an RPG? A lot of people who commented on Funk's column spoke about immersion, as if a long period of time was somehow a prerequisite for involvement. The need for a long experience is something we only see in gaming.
After 3 hours of Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring, did you feel sufficiently involved in the Fellowship's journey? Would it have been more emotionally affecting if Gandalf had grinded around Moria for ten hours before the Balrog dragged him down into the abyss? Did you need to see Boromir have long, pointless conversations on various topics with all the other Fellowship party members to fully understand his betrayal and subsequent redemption?
The extended versions of the Lord of the Rings movies are all messes of varying degrees - the fact that filmed footage was removed for the real version shows that that directors and movie moguls seem to realize that more is not necessarily better. The games industry is very slow to accept this. We want that bullet point, the one that says "100 hours of gameplay." We gamers still haven't accepted the fact that 10 hours of awesome is much better than 5 hours of awesome, spliced with 20 hours of crap. In today's 140-character-limit world, I would have thought that we would better understand that brevity is the soul of wit.