If you pay all that much attention to my vague ramblings you probably know that I have a bit of a thing for comic books. To be fair though they don’t just interest me in book form, I love comics however they come. For quite a few years I’ve had a huge thing for web comics, which isn’t just to do with the fact I don’t have to pay to read them. I mean that’s certainly handy, but I think the real reason is the bite sized nature of them.
You see with a physical copy of a comic the unit is the book, and when it’s a single issue of a comic that’s normally somewhere between twenty and thirty pages. That’s hardly a commitment really, I can probably read and really appreciate a single issue in less then fifteen minutes on average. A quarter of an hour is short enough for me to pick up a copy of something lying about and flick through it before I have to go back to whatever I was actually meant to be doing (writing for TSA, editing the podcast, fixing a software bug etc…).
The thing with a web comic, though, is the unit is a single strip. Something like Penny Arcade can be read in thirty seconds, which is so short that it’s barely a commitment at all. Short comics like this are absolutely fine, except they do end up bringing about a “just one more mentality”. I mean that comic only took you thirty seconds to read, so you might as well read another. And this time it was a bit longer, but it still only took forty seconds to read; one more couldn’t hurt. With me this loop can go on for hours; in the past I’ve lot the best part of a day when I find a new comic to read.[drop]So if the unit for a comic is an individual book, and the unit for a web comic is a strip, it does raise the question of what it is for a game. For some games this is pretty easy to think about, in FIFA you tend to play a match at a time, in games like Sonic or Mario you can easily split your time into levels.
However, it does become a bit tougher when you look at some modern games. Where do you draw the line in Uncharted for example? Sure, there are cut scenes but really everything tends to flow together with few real breaks. With games becoming more and more like films in their structure and narrative it seems to become trickier to break them into chunks. You wouldn’t watch a film in blocks so why play a game with a cinematic narrative like that?
The problem obviously comes from the fact that a game is typically seven hours long at the lower end, whereas films are around three hours long at the most. It’s hard to convince myself that I can play a seven or eight hour game in a block, although there are some that have managed to snag me like that.
Of course, developers do try and put breaks points into stories, but it’s all about the perception at the end of the day. For example I have Mass Effect sitting sealed on my shelf because I’ve been told over and over it’s a long, deep game. That intimidates me hugely, to the extent that I’m scared about playing it. I know that makes absolutely no sense, that I just need to try and play it in manageable blocks, but I’m still almost nervous about starting the game.
I suppose it does seem pretty weird to be intimidate by a game, no matter how weighty. After all they’re supposed to be fun, not something you have to battle your way through. Worrying about the length before I’ve even started doesn’t feel like it’s the right way round, but sadly that’s just the way my brain works.
Spend two hours playing thirty second games of Angry Birds? No problem. Spend two hours playing a ten or twenty hour game? Some how that seems like a mammoth task.