Daniel Purvis, from his piece on returning to games writing:
Hearing about every new game each week is exhausting as the tale I’m told boils down to not more than what the visuals, sounds, controls and gameplay are like. His recollections are devoid of the experience he had while playing them.
The article brought to mind two ideas, one about my personal games writing strategy and the other about the nature of gaming content, specifically the future of the immersive experience.
First, as a parent and husband with a job outside of writing this blog, my time to play games is limited in comparison to what it was five or six years ago. Even if I wanted to play every game to hit shelves (physical or digital) I couldn’t. Instead, when I write here or discuss games in general, I draw on experiences from games I have played. That’s why so many of my examples come from a few select gaming franchises and genres.
The advantage to writing this way is that when I pull an example or explain a situation, that moment almost always has a deeper meaning than it would have if I had played more games for shorter periods of time. I feel that my experience is richer with a smaller set of games because I play them over the course of a couple of months (sometimes more) a couple of hours at a time, rather than over a few days of marathon gaming sessions.
The drawback, I suppose, is that seven months later I’m still talking about Skyrim from time to time, and I’ll probably still be referencing Diablo 3 in November. Such a strategy works as long as there is something interesting to say about these games and how their designs compare or contrast to whichever title I’m playing at the time. At least, that’s the hope.
Secondly, in regard to the Daniel Purvis article, I’m inclined to believe that the days of the “Hey, I can play this game for months and still find interesting things to experience!” game might be coming to an end. Now, expansive games will most likely never vanish completely from the industry—and that is a very good thing—but the number of vast, hundred-hour-plus games simply cannot continue to grow.
I’m reminded of another entertainment medium which I enjoy when it is well executed: TV. A great TV show can be just as immersive (though without the agency) as a good game, but the difference is that the TV show almost always comes in episode format. A format which I find to be best consumed in one of two ways: either all at once, quickly watching as many episodes as possible from your streaming or download service of choice; or once per week at a designated time (DVR’ed for commercial freedom, of course).
In the first scenario, anyone can appreciate the ability to enjoy something at one’s own pace, on one’s own terms. That’s what we have with games now. You play however much you want as fast as you want, and when the game is over, it’s over. That may mean that you’ve finished the single player campaign or that you’ve exhausted the intrigue of multiplayer or whatever.
It is the other option that has me more interested for the future of games (especially considering the way I choose to play them). As the general length of games becomes shorter, we move closer to the episodic experience. And anyone who would deny this, need look no farther than this year’s E3 where sequels—essentially continuations—dominated the field. In the case of episodic content, players can digest and experience segments of a game, sometimes multiple times as one might re-watch a particularly good TV series episode. When the next piece of content arrives (And timely arrival is key. I’m lookin’ at you Half-Life.) the player can actually be more invested in the characters and setting, with the added benefit of anticipation between episodes. The ability to think and process an experience before moving on to the next portion cannot be overrated.
I wonder if, given the chance to reflect, gamers might begin to recognize what they just spent hours doing and make different choices concerning the content of the games they buy, not because there is something wrong with the content of mainstream games, but because broadening the selection of content would make gaming an even richer way to spend one’s entertainment dollars and time.