No, PBS Games Channel. Videogames Aren’t Too Long

PBS

PBS Game Channel uploaded a video on their YouTube channel about two weeks ago. There’s two ways we can go about it, and I think it’s better to just go both ways. Because I never quite understood the logic of not having your pie and eating it too. I mean, what else are you going to do with a pie? Look at it?

The Short And Easy Way!

So let’s do this the short way first. I was going to just put the title here and respond to that right off the bat, but then I saw the first two seconds of the video and my mind kicked into overdrive because of all the possible ways to debunk the validity of the entire video already. Let’s just look at those first two seconds:

Why are games, so long? PBS Game Channel, Published on Jan 20, 2015

I don’t know, but I’ve got a few possibilities for you. Pick your poison:

  • You don’t actually enjoy them and want them to be over as soon as possible.
  • You don’t want to admit you’d actually rather just enjoy movies.
  • You don’t have any patience.
  • You’re playing terrible games that don’t know how to add variety or test their gameplay elements to holding up over a longer period of time.
  • You’re playing annualized games that deliver the same thing year in year out and the formula’s growing stale but you can’t put your finger on what’s causing the fatigue.
  • You’re stuck believing in full completion for every game even though there’s no shame in just taking the direct route if the game isn’t for you.
  • You’re a video game reviewer who doesn’t like off-beat different games that actually require you to put the full time in before you judge it and want your job to be made easier by having everything streamlined and further simplified so you can judge the game on any merit that isn’t actual gameplay.

There we go. Seven better things to start questioning yourself about before you start asking dumb questions about video games that you’re not capable of answering. We can rap it up. This video is done.

Oh no wait, there’s still 11 minutes and 27 seconds left on this video. Dear god, they’re really serious about this.

The video starts with an overly long explanation about pre-emptively looking at a site that tallies how long it takes players to beat a game on average and then sighing in frustration about what a chore it is. Then goes on to state how games take way long to finish on average than any form of media out there.

For example, in the time it took this Tumblr user to play Call of Duty, I could watch every movie on the AFI Top 100, read the works of Tolstoy, and listen to the major works of 20th century pop music.

How amazing you managed to do that. While you’re talking about how long it takes to beat games, you use some random person’s Call of Duty gameplay time to really stack the numbers in favor of your argument while refusing to acknowledge that this timeframe relates to online multiplayer. You purposely misrepresent the data you’ve cherry picked to create a false narrative, so any hyperbolic selection of cultural relevance is rendered pointless because it no longer represents your argument.

A Call of Duty campaign, on average, is between 4 to 6 hours. I’d be seriously impressed if you can finish War and Peace in a six hour sitting, that would be very impressive. I could probably finish most of the better NES games in the time it would take the average person to read War and Peace twice over.

Multiplayer is a different beast in itself. There is no definitive end to a multiplayer experience. The lifetime of a multiplayer games can range from a single 10 minute match to years and years depending on how much enjoyment you can get out of it. There is no beating the game. There’s just the game, and playing the game again. You can’t tackle it with the same mindset as you can a traditional single player game, especially not with the standards of cinematic experience that the PBS Game Channel tries to judge them by. The point isn’t to get a narrative thread, or an effort to keep culturally relevant with your peers. The point is to have a good time with other people who also enjoy these gameplay mechanics. If they should be judged by a standard, it’s not one of how quickly you can go through them, but how fun they are to play with others. You don’t equate them to movies or books, but to board and card games. They’re a fun thing to play with others, both with random people to waste some time, or with friends to socialize. Does socialization have to adhere to the standards of other forms of media? No, because it’s not a form of media. It’s a thing you do with people.

For single player games they can be so exhaustive that only 10-20% of people ever finish them.

Not everyone buys games to play them to completion. A lot of games are bought by parents for their kids who only have a passing interest in them. A lot of games are simply bought by people who see the brand they recognize, boot it up, and realize they’re not really all that into this. A lot of people just mess around with the big checkbox sandbox open world type games and don’t really want to mess with the story at all, I know that’s how I used to play the GTA games as a kid.

Raiden do Metal Gear

Actually, I still do. Except now I just run around as Raiden from Revengeance or Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants because I realized these are things I can do because I feel like it.

All of this is completely fine. Most of the people who do play games to completion tend to be the people saying, barring a lot of the dumb completionist collect-a-thon bonuses for 100%, modern games are too short.

The following are a list of complaints the video rushes into as examples of games wasting his time:

  • Unlocks: Like how you have to beat Street Fighter IV with all characters to unlock Seth.
  • Fetch Quests: Like collecting the Triforce pieces in Wind Waker.
  • Grinding: Getting enough experience points to beat bosses.
  • Collectibles: Like hunting for honey badgers to get a weapon holster in Far Cry.

Games are all or nothing, so you’re totally at the mercy of the designer when it comes to time. There’s no fast-forwarding at the slow parts or skimming through the pages filled with B and C plot points.

This is why I was giving the argument a hard time at the start because it seems to come from a point of apathy towards the actual medium itself, while giving empty praise towards the idea of an emerging new popular media to latch onto. First of all, if you’re skimming through pages of a book, it’s a sign you’re not enjoying the book. You should probably drop it in favor of something better because it’s not holding your attention. The problem with wanting to fast forward through slow parts seem to indicate the root of a lot of the other above problems in the bullet points.

For instance, needing to grind is often what happens in games if you’re rushing through them to fast, skipping over things that would’ve given you the amount of experience points that you are now missing. This isn’t the truth in a lot of games, but usually if you fight every battle once, or defeat every enemy in your critical path normally, you should be the right level at any given time. Almost as if this is what the number of enemies you encounter along the way was designed for it to work out that way. Almost.

Collectibles are always secondary and can be skipped. You wanted a fast forward button? Not focusing on secondary objectives is all yours. Depending on the level of enjoyment of a game, I decide whether or not I care about the secondary objectives. If I really love a game, I’m going to get all of them. If it’s just okay, not really great, then fuck it. I’m going on ahead. If you don’t want to “waste too much time” that’s the way to go about it. Shaves entire hours off of a game, just like that.

BowserintheDarkWorldFight

It’s also worth noting that in terms of “Fetch Quests”, the Mario games have always allowed you to beat the game once you’ve gotten half of the collectible star items since Mario 64. 120 Stars for full completion, 60 Stars to beat the game. This has become a series staple. Do you just want the base experience? Get those 60 easy ones. Really love the game and want to put more time into it? Get the other, much harder to grab 60 stars. The end result is mostly the same in most of the games. It’s just there to give people who want the extra game time more to do.

It’s also funny you mention Street Fighter IV in a video about games being too long. Another multiplayer game that you’re not supposed to be focusing on solo. Usually with these kinds of games, unlockable characters tend to be banned from a lot of tournaments. Most people like to humor the tournament style rules when they get serious about it. So in terms of saving time, if you’re playing Street Fighter to keep an appearance at cultural relevancy within gaming culture, either play these games with friends, at tournaments, or don’t bother. You’re going to expose yourself with your lack of actual enthusiasm. Kind of like you’re doing all over the place with this video.

Games demand your complete attention. You can listen to music while reading. You can talk with friends while watching House of Cards. But I find when I’m playing games, I can’t do anything else.

That’s probably a lack of motor skills. Otherwise, I don’t know. I’m playing The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth while listening to the Super Best Friends Podcast. Works fine for me, I’m currently one run away from getting Platinum God. Listened to a lot of hours of Airport Road while playing Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and that got me all the way into G-Rank.

If you’d talk to me while I’m watching Parasyte, JoJo, Gundam Build Fighters, or The Wire… I will punch you in the face and kick you out. Fuck off, I’m trying to concentrate on a narrative. I don’t like listening to music while reading either, because the kind of story you get from a good book requires too much attention to nuance, too much thinking about implications and possibilities between the lines for music to not be distracting. Video game stories tend to be much more linear and simple, unless we’re talking something like Metal Gear Solid 2, or something that really requires you to be part of the mood, like a survival horror game.

Just because one thing is that way for you, doesn’t mean that it that’s way for everyone. Personal statements to cover a weak argument don’t really help anyone. Least of all the audience whose time you are wasting.

We still can’t even pause during cutscenes

Start playing better games, then. There’s a lot of good PS2 era games that already allowed you to do this. Since you enjoy relating gaming to other forms of media, try asking people at the local theater to pause the entire movie when you feel like it. See how that goes over.

I’m lazily paraphrasing the next part because the video is lazily paraphrasing something Patrick Klepek said in a Kotaku article. Dragon Age: Inquisition was too long for what the game is worth, and a concise 3 hours game packs a better punch than a 15 hours game that’s sort of entertaining but that you may never finish.

While I partially agree with this statement, it seems to put too much emphasis on the story or narrative and cinematic experience aspect of a game as its only true value. What puts gaming apart from other forms of media is the fact that they have gameplay, and gameplay is what they ultimately should strive for representing. If the gameplay mechanics are strong enough they should be able to carry the game any length of time, so long as the player wishes to play them. The problem with the focus on story or cinematic experience that a lot of modern games strive for is that the player is often not given enough input of their own, not given enough of the thing that sets games apart from other forms of media, and does so while offering a story that doesn’t hold up against the media it tries to imitate. In those scenarios, the 3 hour indie art piece will always trump the 15 hour long clunky story.

monster_hunter_3_ultimate-1However, if something like Monster Hunter, which is entirely about the core gameplay and nothing else, only came out in 3 hours chunks, there would be hell to pay.  Most of the gameplay elements wouldn’t have even had a chance to really come into play during the first 10 hours, let alone 3. This isn’t because it’s a badly designed game either. Monster Hunter has a lot of great design, and most of the real greatness comes from the respect towards the players who stick with it because the game is very much aware of the fact that it’s not for everyone and is fine with it. The biggest reason why it takes so long for the more difficult gameplay mechanics to kick in is because it requires a certain level of understanding of the base game design, which it slowly teaches you over time so as not to drown you in information. And people feel like they’re being drowned in information regardless of that because there is just so much to keep in mind while playing that game.

Similarly, even simpler games that a lot of time and effort to really have the full strength of the game’s design to kick in. Puzzle games, the old traditional ones (not the current breed of free to play Candy Crush type that indulges in sleazy design archetypes to squeeze money out of the players) are the best example of this. You can look at Tetris for 10 seconds and go “Yeah, I know.” But then you can play Tetris for years and still not be anywhere near real mastery of it.

A lot of people, especially those who only care about things based on their cultural relevancy and mainstream appeal, will look at these two approaches and condemn both of them for taking too long, but I honestly think doing so is bullshit. Both of these approaches towards game design require a certain level of passion towards the subject matter to reach mastery while still giving something to people who aren’t quite all the way there. That’s worth something, as it connects people who enjoy these things way better than any mainstream shared construct can.

The main thing that annoys me from the stance that games should be shorter to accommodate people who do not have the time to play through all of them is the idea that you need to be playing all of them. As if there’s a shame in missing something. Even if you have a limited amount of free time, you can still keep up with the things you are most passionate about by deciding whether or not something is worth it. And usually, this is not done by picking everything that is short enough. The best way to go about that is just picking what you care about more. Who cares if you might miss four talking piece games you’re only into because everyone’s playing them so that you can play the one game you actually really want to play? You pick and choose what is most important to you, this is what a large part of adulthood comes down to. Accepting that.

During the years I spent working at the Japanese restaurant, I had one assured day off in the week. The other days I pretty much worked from noon to midnight. This didn’t really give me much free time to play everything. I still played through Disgaea during that time, the first game in a series that intimidates people based on how much time goes into playing them. I missed most shooters and quite a few action games, and I was completely fine with that. I played what I wanted to play. Simple as that. Still want to play other games? There’s always a point in the year where not much is coming out, play those titles then. No need to take gaming seriously to the point you are forced to catch up with everything. Nobody is forcing you to play everything, and when you reach the point where it feels like you are forced, it might be time to take a break from the hobby.

My hope is that we assess people by their understanding of games as an artform. Not just for how long they’ve played them or how many fetch missions they’ve completed.

Let me phrase this in a few other ways to try to outline how bad this statement is, especially coming from this person. Because if we really should assess people by their understanding of games, than we can rest assured that the people running the PBS Games Channel have no worth. Bringing nothing to the table but misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and misguided opinions.

  • My hope is that we asses people by their understanding of driving as an artform. Not just for how long they’ve had their driver’s license or how many times they’ve driven their cars
  • My hope is that we assess people by their understanding of cooking as an artform. Not just for how long they’ve been in the kitchen or how many dishes they’ve cooked.
  • My hope is that we asses people by their understanding of chess as an artform. Not just by how long they’ve played them or how many games they’ve played against people.
  • My hope is that we assess people by their understanding of writing as an artform. Not just by how long they’ve been readers or how many books they’ve read in their lifetime.

And again, the video dives back into proposing a solution to the problem by just naming already existing video games, almost all of them indie, praising the way they work narratively with little to no comments about actual gameplay. It’s really the biggest trend from people making similar arguments, usually from the soapbox “Games Are Art” point of view. Ignore gameplay. Focus on everything else because it’s easier to loan the already existing movie critique vernacular while discussing the merits of gaming as an artform while condemning everything to do with what actually makes them videogames.

I’m not against the argument that games are art. The problem is that it’s usually brought up as a conversational point by people who want to talk about videogames without actually talking about them. Yes, we know. The sky is blue. Water is wet. What else is new? You don’t see movie fans yell at each other in confirmation of movies being art. You don’t see book lovers scream that books are art in agreeance. So why are so many people, usually people who have problems with the medium and preach it needs to move forward by copying the playing books of older forms of media, so desperate to prove videogames are art? Is it because they realized the only agreeable point in their debative repertoire? I don’t get it.

We need more pragmatic game design, which would rebuild some of the trust between designers and players. Audiences need to trust that designers aren’t padding their games with superfluous content just to reach some benchmark.

Game designers need to trust their players will appreciate their work. Even if it isn’t 60 hours long.

And the few times this happens, we get games like Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Monster Hunter, and Bayonetta 2. Games that people like you keep getting annoyed at for being too hard for you, being too long for you, and ridiculing you for your inability to pay attention to the information the game is giving you about how to play them no matter how clear they make it.

The mass mainstream popularity of the Souls series has retroactively made reviewers a lot more positive about the franchise, even the ones who were originally disdainful about it until they realized they could no longer get away with that behavior. The same thing goes for the games Platinum makes. We went from God Hand panning critically to reviewers heaping praise on Bayonetta 2 while simultaneously complaining the easier Legend of Korra game by the same company was too hard because that was the safe one to trash.

So what do you think? Are games getting too long?

No, they’ve gotten shorter as time goes on thanks to the stupid amount of money it takes to create a big budget game, mixed with the possibilities for adding more parts of the game as DLC that I won’t buy, as well as the annualization of games. Ensuring that a full game isn’t allowed to be too satisfying, or else it’ll stop players from buying more future content.

Yes, there are fantastic short games out there. Ghost Trick is one of my favorite short games out there. In fact, its one of my favorite all-time games out there. But it really depends on what works for that type of game. There is no measuring stick you can apply to every game to decide a length beforehand.

Ghost-Trick-71-1280x728The same thing goes to different audiences. Different people want different things, and not every approach is applicable to every type of game, geared to every audience. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. No shame in admitting that. Wanting to change the entire structure of how gaming works because it doesn’t benefit you personally is incredibly selfish.

PS:  I thought it was worth noting that PBS Game Channel also had a video earlier this year where they stated that nobody has every raised any questions about the legality of Let’s Plays, and that there have never been any copyright issues with them yet. Even going so far as saying that a copyright lawyer told them it has just going entirely under the radar. Even though the legality of them has always been an issue, countless of videos have been taken down in the past. Copyright claims have been made repeatedly, even recently. And there having been a lot of articles on major gaming news sites about it all over the place that a single Google search about the subject would have given you access to reading.

But we have to judge people based on their understanding of their area of expertise, right?

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4 thoughts on “No, PBS Games Channel. Videogames Aren’t Too Long

  1. I think of all this my favorite bit was this

    “For example, in the time it took this Tumblr user to play Call of Duty, I could watch every movie on the AFI Top 100, read the works of Tolstoy, and listen to the major works of 20th century pop music.”

    “Rather than enjoy this mostly meaningless fictional entertainment I could’ve enjoyed these (mostly) equally meaningless other pieces of fictional entertainment”

  2. If games were cheaper you’d only ever be able to AFFORD one or two games every 4 months because you’d run a game down to its end within a week and then have nothing left, let there be variety in play times.

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