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In Defense of Short Games

It seems like there’s been a lot of gamer angst lately directed at games that are considered too short. “8-12 hours is just not long enough to justify the $60 price tag,” says the collective internet. “We want value for our money, and if we can beat a game in less than a week then it’s worthless.”

Some have defended (apologized for?) these length games, saying that a modern AAA-title requires more people working longer to produce the level of depth and quality that gamers demand, therefore the length of the game is going to suffer. Still, conventional wisdom seems to be that 60-hour epics are somehow “better” than a game that can be beaten in two or three gaming sessions.

I’ve got a confession to make: I love short games.

Not just tolerate them, or put up with them; I love them. Most modern AAA action/adventure/shooters that fall in that magic 8-12 hour range? That’s great. A game like Portal, one that I can actually beat in a single sitting? Even better.

So why? There are a couple of reasons.

1. Short games are easier to get your head around.

Maybe this is just me, but I like knowing pretty much all there is to know about a certain game. If me and my friends are having a conversation about Ghostbusters and I’ve put in the requisite 6 or so hours to finish the storyline, I’ve seen all the same stuff they did. We can talk about specific parts and compare experiences, because we’ve both been through the same places and events.

Now, put that up against something like Fallout 3. You could put hundreds of hours into this game and still have whole giant sections of the map you’ve never stepped foot in. Having a conversation about this kind of game often requires you to describe stuff the other guy hasn’t seen yet. While this is a different kind of fun, I enjoy being able to compare notes more directly.

But short games…short games I can feel satisfied about. I know that I’ve finished it, and when I see it sitting on my shelf it doesn’t feel like a missed opportunity.

Now, the obvious disclaimer: I’m not saying long games suck, or aren’t worthwhile, and I’m certainly not trying to impugn any of the longer games I’ve mentioned here – these and a dozen more epics are some of my favorite games of all time. It’s the very fact that they are so good that makes it so painful when I don’t have time to really play them as much as they deserve. I’m also not saying that all short games are perfect, or even good for that matter – there are plenty of games that aren’t worth spending even a few hours on.

So the next time you finish a game within hours of putting the disc in the tray, don’t rush off to the message boards to trash it. Instead remember that there’s room for both, the hundred-hour epics and the more compact experiences. Because, as Goldilocks taught us, sometime one person’s “not enough” is someone else’s “just right”.

PS. If you’d like to read more on the subject, take a look at Clive Thompson’s defense of The Maw’s 3-hour completion time, Dana Jongewaard’s opinion on the subject, or the always-entertaining TV Tropes’ entry on game length as it relates to quality.
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About Deathofthedeadone of us since 3:53 PM on 08.05.2008

My favorite Halloween costume ever. Circa 1990.

My name is Dylan. I spend a disproportionate amount of my time playing, writing about, and talking about games. I've been obsessed with games since I was a lad, and selling them has been my job for going on six years now. I write for GameZone and GameCinemaHD. I've never been involved in a gaming web community before, but the power of Destructoid compelled me.

Much more recently.

My Favorite Games of All Time, In No Particular Order:
Deus Ex
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Resident Evil 4
Silent Hill 2
Chrono Trigger
Burnout 3
Persona 4
Katamari Damacy
Rock Band
Half-Life 2
Second Sight
Professor Layton and the Curious Village
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Odin Sphere
UmJammer Lammy
Fire Emblem
Mysterious Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer
Zombies Ate My Neighbors
Super Mario RPG