In a recent rash decision to reset my iPhone to its factory state, I’ve been forced to take a look at not only the apps that reside there but also to the content within. Instapaper was one of these. In the Read Later section, I had more articles than I was ever going to realistically get to. As I slashed and burned the list, I chose to save a handful, one of those was from Patrick Stafford, circa November 2012.
It couldn’t have been more perfect.
Titled, “We play games way too fast,” the article’s focus is on just that. So many players—especially those who are also writers—play games far too quickly to fully appreciate the amount of detail that litters many modern titles (those with big budgets and open worlds especially).
Just a couple of days ago, I finished Assassin’s Creed III. Coincidentally, Stafford’s article centers around the same specific title. For a long time, I’ve wondered what it would be like to really spend time with the games I play. As a father of two, my play sessions are shorter and less frequent all the time, though my interest remains as high as ever. With AC3 I decided to really take my time and exhaust everything that the game had to (readily) offer, even if it meant taking a couple of months to finish. Did I go full-completionist and get every achievement? No. Did I have every conversation with every NPC? No. But I did complete the story, sailing, trinkets, and homestead missions.
What I found was interesting. For one, the sheer amount of acting in the game is astonishing. How many players see all of the mo-cap that I saw, hear all of the dialogue that I heard? I’m guessing not many. Then, how many of those who saw it, actually listened or watched closely (no smartphone checks during cutscenes, kids)? That pushes the number even lower. And I haven’t even mentioned multi-player, which by the time I’d mined the single-player game for everything I felt even slightly inclined toward, I could not have cared less about.
It’s great that our games contain such huge amounts of content, but are they better for it? I’d say no. On the surface, it seems to me that the more lines a character had to deliver, the weaker the performance was, culminating with Connor himself. The farther any given bit of dialogue was from the main mission, the more lifeless Connor’s delivery seemed. Haytham, Lee, Achilles, all had stronger performances. But they also had far fewer lines to record.
So what of stopping to smell the flowers? In that department I couldn’t be happier. The scenery breathes peacefully and deserves several “Hey, let me just watch the river rapids, or that soaring eagle, or the teeming city street, for a minute,” moments.
So here’s what I say in response to Stafford. When deciding how much time I’ll take with a game, taking in the sights is a must. People-watching here and there, great. But when it comes to narrative, I’ll follow the momentum. If a side quest is interesting, I’ll pursue it, but when the final confrontation approaches, I’ll let things lie. Whatever the world was like when the main characters completed their story, that is how the story will end for me.
Even then, it will still take me weeks and weeks to finish, let alone how long I’ll wait to pull the trigger on the purchase in the first place.