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  • John Nubern

Enough (Gaming) is Enough!

Updated: Apr 8

Join John from Podcasters United as he shares his thoughts on how much video game is enough and how much is too much?

Not the first wargame, but certainly my first.

Gaming as a serious hobby in the modern era first emerged in the 1960s and 70s amongst amateur military historians who wanted a chance to play out famous battles from the past and become armchair generals in the truest sense. One such individual was a man by the name of Gary Gygax who decided that he could incorporate one of his favorite novels, The Lord of the Rings, into his favorite pastime, only Gygax’s idea would be oriented on adventure and combat at the individual level. Into the 1980s tabletop role-playing games where groups of friends and family would spend hours upon hours together having narrative adventures together would give way to digital RPGs. This was a watershed moment for the gaming hobby as it would see the beginning of gaming as something not always uniting players. I can still remember that first night where I lost all track of time and watched the sun come up after a deep level grind in the first Final Fantasy. It was not the first time I had fully enveloped myself in a fictional world mind you, but the first time one was so incredibly interactive and accessible. You could also easily suggest that I’d found my first true addiction and time sink.

As kids we often find ourselves with the fortunate benefit of disposable time which enables us to delve at length into no small measure of hobby pursuits whether they be television, books, internet “research”, games, etc. Unfortunately, as we grow into adulthood and we transition into our daily lives of careers, 40+ hour work weeks, rent, car payments, bills, children, pets, cooking, cleaning, etc. Suffice to say we don’t have the time we did as kids. And consider that the average age of a “gamer” is 35 years old or that while only about 1/3 of the U.S. population are aged 18-44, that same demographic makes up half of all gamers in the United States.  And so, this leads me to the question(s) of the day: How much video game is enough and how much is too much? Should games really necessitate the same engagement as a part-time or even full-time job? Suffice it to say I think we can settle on “it’s complicated” and I’ll tell you why.

That’s enough “Shalaka” for one day, I think.

First, there’s the old quantity vs. quality axiom; as the more recent entries in Assassin’s Creed franchise have proven, your game doesn’t need hundreds of hours of irrelevant side quests and collectibles. This is representative of a phenomenon in gaming best known as “achievement hunting” which, I think, is perhaps one of the single-most devastating additions to the gaming conversation. To my mind, achievement hunting turns games into grocery shopping lists instead of any sort of narrative adventure, exploiting the simplest parts of the player’s brain to keep them thoughtlessly consuming product and wanting the next thing; and lest I sound the hypocrite, consider that I’m saying this as someone who, in retrospect, is none too proud my hundreds of hours spent on World of Warcraft in its heyday. Is it necessary to “100%” a game to believe you’ve experienced the lion’s share of what a given game has to offer? This is what also feeds the narrative of “Oh it gets better after the first X hours!” Perhaps my favorite commentary on this phenomenon is how developers for Nintendo’s Breath of the Wild rewarded players who went out of their way to collect all 900 of the game’s Korok seeds with a gold-plated poo. It only drove the point home when the game’s director, Hidemaro Fujibayashi, confirmed in an interview that not only is your reward poop, but you were collecting poop the entire time.

If you know, you know.

Also consider the recent phenomenon of “dad games” like Power Wash Simulator or Hardspace: Shipbreaker with gameplay loops akin to “clean or take apart the thing”. Now as a dad who has both power-washed things and disassembled (then reassembled) spacecraft I ask: do these games really need to exist? I know at least in the case of Hardspace that the design philosophy is a critique of corporate malfeasance and capitalistic excess, but is it necessary to shovel that into a 30-40 hour game? In that time, someone could have read the complete novel series for The Expanse twice – or at least could have finished the TV series. If we’re being brutally honest, any sense of story or commentary is largely going to be tuned out by the player because it’s given them little more than a laundry list of tasks to complete while making no meaningful decisions about the reality in which they live. Or is that just a part of the commentary as well? Ooh, how meta, particularly coming from a publisher like Focus Interactive whose body of work largely includes low-budget Warhammer spinoff games of varying quality. 

What is stopping games from having concise narratives and fun gameplay loops that we can just put down after a couple weekends or pick up for an hour or two an evening? Granted, games like Call of Duty charging 60 dollars for 3 hours of campaign is laughable, but certainly there’s a middle ground between that and the 11+ hours of cutscenes in Final Fantasy XVI? I don’t think I’m remiss in suggesting that more than anything gamers want a fun and memorable experience, and that experience is usually boiled down to a few small moments of strong emotions, but do we need the average adventure game to be longer than a read of War and Peace? As I was writing this, the promotional Facebook page for Final Fantasy VII asked fans how much time they’d spent over the last 10 days playing the newly released Rebirth and while I did not scientifically survey every answer, to see that no small measure of people were boasting 90+ hour play times in less than two weeks was staggering to say the least. That is their prerogative, to be sure, and I’m not trying to suggest that it’s the responsibility of developers to manage their player base’s time. But what is it that is compelling us to binge these games that should be digested over weeks, months, or dare I say years?

Gaming as a hobby should not be a full-time job.

As I said in my last piece we consumers have a number of issues to address in our community, not least of which among them are the habits and attitudes of our peers which inevitably drive the gaming industry to keep “biggering and biggering” as Dr. Seuss’ Lorax put it. Given the lack of regard for the quality of the product we’ve received in many games just these past few months, we owe it to ourselves to be considerate of not just how we spend our money but our time as well. I cannot say for sure what an appropriately sized game looks like, only that we have a responsibility to find out what that means for each of us and not forget to find adventures in the real world as well as in the game.


About the Author:

John is the newest author to join the ranks of Podcasters United! John's 30+ year love affair with gaming first started on the tabletop and eventually segued into digital dungeon diving with the original Legend of Zelda on NES. He retired from technical work on air and spacecraft in 2021 and now teaches full-time. When he's not working or gaming he's avidly writing and reading all things sci-fi and fantasy.

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