After being bombarded by the sheer amount of releases this week (Mario Odyssey won in my book for this particular week) and taking a look at some review scores for titles I didn’t purchase, I saw the same old tired complaint, the game wasn’t long enough. It’s a complaint that I see levied against numerous games and its one that truthfully, I rarely have felt (if anything I would like shorter games). Criticism for a game being long or short is completely valid, the problem is, many don’t make it in the correct context; without that proper context, it’s meaningless.
Time isn’t a Metric On its Own
The issue with using time as a metric is that holds no value of its own when judging a game’s worth. If a game is longer or shorter, that has no context in reference to what the player is doing. For example, if you are stuck doing the same repetitive task for 5 hours vs 10 hours, having a shorter game might be more beneficial as performing that same task will have less time to become negative. The opposite holds true as well, having a game that keeps itself interesting throughout a playthrough for a longer period of time becomes a positive and something to strive for. In both cases, time is being used as a means to ground the other metrics that judge the game in question; it’s simply a reference point.
For example, thinking back to my playthrough of Persona 5 (an extensively long game), there are many times throughout my playthrough that the length of the title was either a positive or a negative. Some plot points made the length of Persona 5 a real chore, the story got less interesting, the gameplay felt immediately repetitive, and I just felt like I was pushing through the game to get to the payoff that is the conclusion or advancement of the story. At that time during the game, the length of the game felt like a real negative because the story lost its quality and it was what was holding the game up at that point. The second the story and other aspects of the game improved in quality so did my enjoyment. The length of the game abruptly turned into a positive, even going so far as making the portion of my playthrough I disliked the most, turn into something positive due to the overarching story. In this case, the length of the game turned out to be good as it allowed the game’s story to flourish on a long winding road that allowed the player to become invested.
In this example, time is being used as a reference point for the quality of the story. Just because the length of Persona 5 is long, doesn’t make it good. Rather, the length of the game is considered ‘good’ because it uses the time it takes to play to its advantage.
You Can’t Compare
Another argument that is used improperly is attempting to compare game A’s length with Game B’s. Here is a classic example found on Reddit in reference to Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Doom (2016):
Its comparing apples to oranges. Just because a game in a similar style is longer, doesn’t make it intrinsically better. What matters is what happens during that time of playing, the context. In the case of Doom, I would argue that the length of the game works against it and is simply too long. Once the player is a few hours in, the base of Doom‘s gameplay becomes somewhat tired and repetitive, making portions of the game feel like padding to simply extend the game a little longer. Just because Wolfenstein II is shorter doesn’t make it worse, much like how Doom being longer doesn’t make it better. What important is the context of those hours playing the game. Were they good hours? Bad hours? Did you enjoy them? Not enjoy them? Or to sum it all up into one simple question, what was the quality of the time played?
Using time as a lone metric for games is simply flawed. Time by itself doesn’t hold any value when it comes to consuming games or any type of media. The key when discussing time, is the quality of that time. Was it the best 10 hours of your life? or the most incredibly average 20 hours of gameplay that you ever experienced. We don’t judge movies, books, and other mediums based on their length, we base it on the quality of that time. So why should we base games on that metric? The answer is, we shouldn’t.