Letting Go

Skyward Sword is by far the longest game in this 25 year old franchise.
Skyward Sword is by far the longest game in this 25 year old franchise.

A claim I’ve heard a lot in the past few years is that video games are too short now. I’m not sure what games those people have been playing; the video games I play are, on average, much longer than they’ve ever been. In the past year alone I’ve played Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dark Souls, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Mass Effect 3 and Xenoblade Chronicles. Each of these games can last dozens, if not hundreds of hours. There have always been games of comparable length, but not with this frequency, and especially not from names as big and popular as these. When I think of the hundreds of games I played during the 1990s and the early 2000s, I can’t think of many that lasted more than 40 hours or so. Much less 7 such games within a single 12 month span.

That almost begs the opposite question: are games too long now? Certainly not, but they aren’t too short either. I’ve always felt that the appropriate length of a game is not merely derived from some weird hour per dollar ratio; quality has to play some part in a game’s value. We all know this, even if we don’t accurately vocalize it, because we do actually pay for games in a world where there are countless free ones out there. There are good and bad games of all shapes and sizes, and you can’t make sweeping generalizations about things such as a game’s length. That leads to the real question: is it possible for a single game to be too short or too long? I think most people would agree that it is possible for a game to be too short. The interesting question, however, is whether a game can be too long.

Xenoblade's combat doesn't have nearly enough variety or depth to remain interesting for 70 hours.
Xenoblade's combat doesn't have nearly enough variety or depth to remain interesting for 70 hours.

I would argue that a game can indeed be too long. I know there are people who scoff at the idea, arguing that more “content” can never be a bad thing. But every game has its own unique set of gameplay systems and ideas, ones that have varying amounts of depth and longevity to them. Those ideas can only remain interesting for so long, and after a certain point you’re not seeing anything new, thus diluting the overall product. Words like “padding” and “filler” exist for a reason, and the situations where I can accurately use them are the only ones where I feel I am wasting my time playing a game. Unfortunately, that has been my experience with a handful of games over the past year or two, most recently Xenoblade Chronicles. By the time I was 20 hours into the game, I had already encountered multiple areas that prompted me to exclaim “Great, more grinding”. Its combat is the definition of repetitive, and also comprises a large percentage of your play time. The idea of spending 50 more hours with the game was a depressing one, and ultimately led to me putting the game down. If it had a well paced story arc that wrapped up in 30 or 40 hours instead of 70, I might have stuck with it. I can’t think of a better example of a game being too long.

Xenoblade isn’t the only offender though; it was merely the latest and biggest one, the final blow in a series of games that wore out their welcome well before their end. Final Fantasy XIII, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning are all examples of recent games that I got tired of (to varying degrees) before I finished them. Unlike Xenoblade, however, I did actually finish all of those games. Xenoblade was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Though in this case it was a brick rather than a straw. I just couldn’t take it anymore, and decided once and for all to simply let go.

There are plenty of great games out there more worth my time.
There are plenty of great games out there more worth my time.

As a stubborn gamer who is also somewhat of a completionist, that idea of letting go can be a tough one for me. Typically, when I start a game I do so with the intent of finishing it, and putting a game down before seeing the credits roll can be extremely difficult. This has led to me pushing through numerous games that I was no longer enjoying simply for the sake of finishing them. I can’t really explain why; I imagine it’s some combination of hoping the game gets better and resisting the idea that the game has “beaten” me, so to speak. Perhaps it took an extreme case like Xenoblade to break me of my stubborn ways, but I'm finally realizing that it’s sometimes just not worth it. There are too many good games out there that are more worth my precious time. Since abandoning Xenoblade a few weeks ago, I’ve played Fez, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, all games I really enjoyed. What’s more, if I had put the time I put into those three games into Xenoblade instead, I still wouldn’t be done with it. Probably not even close. And I would have enjoyed that time infinitely less.

I felt pretty crummy for a bit after putting Xenoblade down, but I’ve realized that it was the right choice, and I think the whole episode will be beneficial in the long run. I still like playing long games if they can hold my interest from start to finish (Dark Souls comes to mind), but I can also let go of the ones that don’t; the ones that are too long.

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