Disclosure: I’m a financially stable young person in a house were I write about games for a living. I do not care whatsoever about how long The Order: 1886 is. I also understand that other people, deeply, deeply do.
My mom downloads various match-three and word games on her phone. She plays them until they get too hard or ask too often about money. If they annoy her or get boring? She’s out. My long-time friend will play essentially anything I recommend to him because he trusts my taste in games. He played through the Mass Effect series because of me; he played through Braid because of me. My other friend plays mostly MMOs and strategy games, sinking hundreds of hours into them, analyzing and extracting their mechanical complexity. He rarely plays experiential independently developed games. He’s super into Civilization.
Each of these people, in my small, personal group, play games for very different reasons. There’s millions of other different people playing games for different reasons. Games can’t satisfy everyone and by that fact, neither can a game’s length.
It’s a simple concept that applies to all art. Some people will hate something based on their own values and someone else will love it. I love noire, so it’s not surprising that I like a very noire film like Nightcrawler, but someone who doesn’t care that much about noire or really doesn’t like dark movies, might think it’s the worst or just not that good, or someone who might have known someone involved in a crime like the movie depicts might find it too disturbing. And that’s not only fine, but that makes me very happy in a different way that film can be so much more than just what I see. The concept that someone else can connect to something in a wholly different way than me is why people make art. It’s the reason art exists.
Let’s rewind a bit and focus back down on games, because there’s a problem that could be the root of this length debate that shoots up every now an then. Blockbuster games are very often sold to the lowest common denominator of people who play games. That’s not an insult, that’s just the business of what they are. They form the big, commercial, money-making section of games. In a lot of ways, this is what makes them interesting from a critical perspective, but that’s another topic. But that’s what they are and they’re not changing any time soon. You have to understand that the reason there are ads for Call of Duty in basketball games and on the sides of buses is because there’s a team of people trying their best to capture the biggest audience as possible to play the game. This is not a problem, but it is a reason why I think we get caught up in arguing about whether or not how long a game is matters.
Because these games are marketed for a mass audience, everyone believes their opinion on what matters about them is the most important.The person who only buys a game once every month thinks the game that’s 100 hours long makes the $60 price tag incredibly worth it, while the person who just wants to play something interesting is fine with paying that much for something that’s half or even something like six hours long. The key thing here is that different people want to play these games for different reasons and we’re never going to have a definitive one. Never. And you have to deal with it.
Sorry, this means that we don’t have an answer for why we pay $60 for sometimes short experiences and sometimes mega long experiences or how much time investment we should expect from this type of game in this genre or if it that subscription fee is really worth it. We can’t answer these definitely because they’re based on your own values, they’re subjective. But we should definitely discuss these things for each game that deserves it, if only to further the discourse on the medium and to exercise what being a critic means, especially for games. Let’s not stop talking about it, but let’s stop getting so frustrated and angry at other people’s opinions. Because, ultimately, we’re all different people coming from different angles here. And that’s something that should power our debates, not limit them.