by Ben Winterton
One of the (many) unique features of videogames, compared to other forms of popular culture, is how we measure value for money. If a video game is only a few hours long, and it’s not “Portal”, people are generally less willing to buy it; whereas, a game with a huge and sprawling 30 hour-plus campaign just screams value for money. Unless, of course, that game is “Final FantasyXIII”.
Conversely, if I see a 1000-page novel in a book shop, I’m not immediately tempted just because I get a better words-to-pounds ratio, nor am I immediately drawn to any 4-hour long films. Why do we deem lifespan to be so important in video games? In my experience, many numerical game reviews put lifespan as one of the key ways in which a video game should be measured.
|You haven't sat through this. I have.|
I believe this is partly down to the relatively unimportant role that narrative, sadly, still plays in video games. Whilst there are some notable exceptions, people are more than happy to play games with literally the same story, such as “Zelda” or “Mario” games, provided they get the opportunity for more of the same gameplay.
And it was this line of thought that got me thinking, which is more important: lifespan or replayability? Would I rather have a game that you can basically play forever, such as “Skyrim”, or a game that I can play through over and over again?
This is a more complicated question than it first appears. To refer to one of my favourite examples, the “Mass Effect” series, I found my level of emotional engagement growing as the three games progressed. Moreover, even though I found the second game to be the best, I still felt the ante was increasingly being upped. On the downside, games this big are something of a turn-off when it comes to replaying. Even games as good and diverse as “Mass Effect” invariably feel slow and dull at the beginning, since you have already experienced the thrills of the last hurrah.
|Remember this shit?|
This is where playing short but sweet games repeatedly triumphs. I honestly cannot tell you how many times I have played through “Banjo Kazooie” or “Portal”, but damn it I never get sick of them. These games, as well as several other favourites of mine, just seem to ooze charm and, quite frankly, fun for me. Every time I replay “Portal” I notice another clever little touch, and every time I play “Banjo Kazooie” I notice that bloody-hell-this-may-be-the-best-game-ever.
My conclusion? Well, firstly, that I have used too many rhetorical questions as awkward signposts in this article. Also, that, given the choice, I think I would choose something that has lifespan through my happily playing it 5 times in a row, rather than something that never ends. Hence why I have now decided to only play “Human Revolution” and “Mystical Ninja”, and watch my Gamerscore stagnate.
Disagree? I am more than happy to be swayed over which is more important by heated debates on the comments. I declare open season.