Posted by: bracehare | October 24, 2011

Gaming and time

Other people have said it before, and other people have probably said it better.  There is also a risk I am delving into platitude here, but nevermind.  Several months ago I got Fallout: New Vegas, partly because of critical acclaim and partly because I wanted a game which would justify my excessively expensive computer build.  It was on sale for $10, so I figured why not.  Human Revolution is too rich for my blood at present, and I wanted to try one of those “open world” games.  The thing is, I am a busy little pika.  Between school and work and transgender stuff and poor person stuff, as well as my supernatural love for sleep, I am squeezed for time.  This means I can generally only find a spare half hour to an hour a day.  This time slot, small as it is, has proven perfect for certain games.  I can play a half hour session of Beat Hazard or A Reckless Disregard for Gravity and it is a cogent, enjoyable, and even somewhat relaxing experience.  However, that same half hour applied to New Vegas results in an experience which is utterly unsatisfying and often, in terms of game progression, completely stationary.  It will take me 30 minutes just to talk to all of the characters, accept a quest, and venture off in the aim of achieving it.  But then somewhere around the half hour mark I will be attacked by a swarm of giant radscorpians and have to start over again.  New Vegas features a lot of “walk from point A to point B” action, and this manages to absorb enough of any given half hour time slot to make it less than compelling.

The time slot a player affords to a given game is a window into the game world.  With many games, a small window is perfect; the game is divided into small, discrete units which largely function independently as experiences.  With open world games, the game is larger than my window.  I tested this recently by actually playing New Vegas for a reasonable span of time.  At an hour and a half or more, the game looks like this:

Where it otherwise only consists of the first three items.  My normal gameplay window is obviously too small.  The game is not enjoyable in 30 minute windows, because certain critical elements of the game are never present within it; IE, because the actual resolution of the quest, or for that matter, the bare salience of the quest, never arrives within a mere 30 minutes.  As trivial as this seems, I think it is fairly important.  It show that the amount of time a player is willing to devote to any given gameplay session will determine their enjoyment of the game relative to the time spacing of the content (and especially the “narrative arc”, so to speak).  I have heard this concept hinted at when discussions of portable game design are brought up.  One of my issues with the PSP (and indeed many people’s) is that the hardware and tech appeal of the console encourage development of types of games which are not necessarily suited for a portable device.  While 10 hour car trips and plane trips are a reality, so are thirty minute bus rides.  In that sense, Chu Chu Rocket or Advance Wars, with their discrete, self-contained levels, are better designed games than half of the PS2 style offerings available on Sony’s (now) last generation portable.  Although gamers can and do adapt, I still believe that their gameplay window (and its flexibility) is a fundamental comfort level; as well as a consequence of lifestyle, which is not always open to change for the mere sake of a game.  In essence, more is only better when your eyes aren’t bigger than your consumer’s mouth.

– Jessica Evans


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