I don’t go to a lot of movies. Mostly this is just a carried over habit from my college years, I was too poor to afford going out when Netflix was right there (and payed for by my roommate’s parents). Every piece of entertainment had to be carefully analyzed and only the highest in cost:entertainment ratio were within my budget and two hours of fun just wasn’t enough for me to justify a $12 price tag. But as the years pass and I start to have a bit (not much, but a bit) more money to my name I find myself going back to things that I missed out on for the past years, art shows, galleries, theater and movies are making a comeback as I claw my way desperately from the pits of “paycheck to paycheck”. One of the expenses I now allow myself is “artsy video games” and if you find yourself able to afford a movie in the theaters for $12, I would highly advise dipping your toes into some of the lower cost art games that are floating around.
Let’s start out with a qualifier though, some people will never want to spend their money on smaller artsy video games, and that’s ok! But recently in video game review, especially in video game review for profit made by writers on a time crunch speeding article to article without spending the time to critically look at the games they’re talking about, there has been an unfortunate trend of over-emphasizing the importance of the length of a game. Longer gameplay time is portrayed as a positive, shorter gameplay time is a negative.
Adding value to a game based blindly on its length is an issue for all sorts of reasons that it would take a whole other article to delve into: creating a rush of games with additional padding but no substance, games with “multiple endings” but no real replay value to your average consumer because the different endings are barely fleshed out aesthetic changes, and narrative pacing being thrown out the window in supposedly story based games to make room for a collect-a-thon of meaningless garbage just so that they can slap a 60+ hour playtime image to the review pages.
These things appearing in so many video games I’ve played (and still enjoyed!) are why I’m really circling back around to appreciating the quality that can be hidden in some games that have a shorter run time. Red Strings Club, Undertale, and Oxenfree are some of my favorite games this year, and none of them took me more then a weekend or two of playing to complete. All of them are very plot driven, with Undertale having the most gameplay vis-a-vis bullet hell dodge games, Oxenfree being a walking sim and red strings club being a hard to define minigame driven mystery simulator? and the short run time actually works to their advantage to keep the mechanics fresh. Playing 4 hours of pouring drinks and dialogue trees was pretty fun, but if it had run on too long it would have become a drag.
Shorter games are often there to try to tell a story. And while there is value in the ability to have a game give hours of entertainment, I would say that there is an equal but different value in the ability to produce a complete and satisfying narrative.