I haven’t finished Elden Ring. I’m about 125 hours into it and currently a fire giant with the ability to dodge roll is keeping me from progressing. This is typically one of the many points in the game where I’d take a breath and go exploring elsewhere for a while. Maybe I’ll try a new weapon. Or better yet, maybe I’ll zip over to Caelid and do some grinding. But here’s the thing: I’ve done all of those. I found some dungeons to explore and mini-bosses to murder. I explored different weapon types and upgraded one that was better than my previous mainstay. I spent most of a Sunday grinding via Remote Play and a Backbone controller while watching Love Island with my partner. I felt ready to take on the giant again.
I’m fairly familiar with the FromSoft gameplay loop at this point. I should probably look into my build and consider respeccing next and when I finally kill that gosh darn fire giant… I’m going to feel SO good. I’m going to feel like I really did the work, I learned, I grew, and I triumphed. But at the same time… why? From my first Watchdog fight to now, I’ve experienced the high of ripping through roadblocks like this dozens of times at this point. I’ve gotten so much further in this game than I have in any previous FromSoftware game. I’ve felt myself get better and more confident with my abilities playing it. Like I said at the start, I’ve spent 125 hours wandering around The Lands Between and I know basically what awaits me after that fire giant. Another handful of roadblocks and then the credits, probably.
(Note: I have not been following the plot of Elden Ring that closely. If I was then what would await me after the fire giant would be… you know, the resolution to the story.)
So what compels us to finish something when we’ve already gotten 100+ hours of fun out of it? What about 50 hours? What about 10? The average movie ticket price in the United States is $9.17 according to a three-second Google search of the phrase “average movie ticket price 2022”. Similar research tactics indicated that the average movie length is sitting around 131 minutes, or 2.18 hours. If you, like myself, frequent your local cinemas then it turns out that you, like myself, are okay with spending roughly $4.20 (!) per hour on your recreational activities. As long as we’re coming in under or around that $4.20 (!!!) then it stands to reason our time is being well-spent, right? With sales tax and fees, I spent exactly $63.59 on a Playstation 5 copy of Elden Ring. At 125 hours and a single investment of $63.59, my Fun-Time Quotient (FTQ if it comes up again, I guess) is hovering around $0.50/hr. And that number is only going to get smaller if I keep playing.
Similarly, thanks to the mind-numbing isolation of 2020 I was finally able to sit down and finish a Persona game after trying and failing to get through the dialog-heavy opening hours of 4 and 5 numerous times throughout the years. Hearing “it gets good after the first ten hours” from those around me made that investment all the more daunting.
TEN hours? Insanity.
But they were right. Once Persona 5 really opens up to you and reveals its true nature, it’s a completely different experience. What I thought was just a [admittedly flashy] dungeon crawler with anime dialog I had to sit and read ad nauseam was actually a ton of games thrown into one. It was part visual novel, part dating-sim, part turn-based rpg, part life-sim. Hell there’s even a little bit of platforming and a ton to explore. I ended up spending 130 hours with it after an initial investment of $21.19; FTQ $0.16.
But what does this mean? Is it simply an argument that if a game is longer it inherently holds more value? Not necessarily. There’s of course variables like replayability, multiplayer, price you paid, and whether the game is even fun to you or not. In 2021 I finally finished Death Stranding (Launch-Window FTQ: $1.57), and I’m glad I did, but let me tell you; it was not always a fun experience. And the reviews reflect as such. Averaging the Critic and User scores on Metacritic, Elden Ring sits at 88/100 while Death Stranding is at 77.5/100. Could we introduce a variable to our FTQ that incorporates these review scores and gives us a clearer picture of not only our time-spent versus cost, but also the quality of that time? Probably. But I think the math portion of this essay is getting stale and we’re also getting dangerously close to this just being a discussion about sunk cost fallacies.
The dopamine hit from a game you enjoy is intoxicating. It can give you something to look forward to after a long day at work. As someone with a restless personality who always needs to be “doing” something, a game can offer a sense of purpose and direction. I’m not wasting precious time, I’m playing the game I like. But when that feeling wears off, it leaves us in a strange position. We can either power through and maybe kill that giant (never gonna happen) or we can turn off the game and let it collect dust on that shelf we keep reserved for games we quit but swear we’ll get back to (I’m sorry Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle). Either way, we got to the fire giant. We achieved an FTQ of $0.50 on one of the most well-received games in recent memory and maybe that’s enough.
Or maybe we need to Git Gud. I dunno.