Editorial: Time Keeps On Slippin'

When I was a kid, my friends and I all swore that SquareSoft (now Square Enix) was the coolest developer in existence. Anyone could make a mascot-driven platformer for the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis, but how many games boasted sixty-hour storylines, complex narrative structure and an extensive end-game section filled with challenges?

I grew up in the generation that saw every ending in Chrono Trigger, caught all 150 original Pokémon and bragged about breeding the best kind of chocobo in Final Fantasy VII. These weren’t the boasts of your average kid who played Mario Kart on the weekends – this was the result of dozens, if not hundreds, of hours devoted to mastering a single game. Hell, even just finishing EarthBound qualified for high honors among my peers.

That was more than a decade ago. Now I am, by most estimates, an adult. I’m 27 years old and I grew up with this legacy of mastering — really, conquering — the games I played, and now I worry that I’ve squandered an evening if I devote more than two hours to a game. When I think about the sheer amount of time — the raw percentage of my life — that I devoted to those accomplishments, I can’t fathom what that lifestyle was like. How did I manage to devote so much time to a single game?

Adulthood carries a price. It’s tough to step up and balance all your new responsibilities with your old passions. Since I graduated college and began working full-time, the games I grew up loving — complex, dynamic RPGs with dozens of hours of content and branching storylines — became things I dread or avoid altogether. When you’re working 40 to 60 hours per week and trying to manage your health and social life on top of that, there just isn’t time to devote dozens of hours per week to a single experience.

I mean, hell: I write for a gaming blog. It’s my duty to keep up with current games, and I still can’t justify spending an entire month chipping away at a game. Sure, I’d probably love it, but then I think about all the smaller, innovative games I’d have to give up as a result. The opportunity cost is just too high. And besides, with that trade-off weighing on my mind I wouldn’t be able to immerse myself in the experience the way I’d like to.

From that point of view, it’s been wonderful to see the rise of digital distribution of smaller, bite-size and episodic games through consoles and PC in recent years. These are, more often than not, the games I’m getting the most out of these days . They’re shorter, self-contained and lend a concrete sense of accomplishment in a fraction of the time. Frankly, I don’t know that I’d still be a gamer if that market didn’t exist.

For example, look at two contemporary, narrative-driven games side-by-side — the $60, eight-hour Heavy Rain and $20, two-hour Gone Home — and tell me which one made for a more cohesive and rewarding experience. If you’re anything like me, you don’t even have to hesitate: Gone Home says more in a fraction of the time.

Every few months I’ll get the urge to fire up Chrono Cross, Planescape: Torment or Dragon Age: Origins again, but after a few minutes the passion subsides. “Look at how long this game is,” I think to myself. “There’s no way in hell I’ll finish it again.”

So I shelve it once again and resign myself to the bleak consolation that, well, at least I’ll always have the memories.

But the thought of playing one of those classic RPGs again today? Honestly, it sounds like – well, work.