Dear critics: Stop sneering at players who don’t buy short games, you’re being assholes
Gone Home can be finished in a few hours. I believe I finished Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons in about three or so. Both are fantastic games, well worth your time and money, but there has been this oddly pretentious backlash against gamers who say that these games are too short.
I've read plenty of comments that note, at the current asking price, some people just aren’t willing to spend the money for what amounts to a few hours of entertainment. And then critics and developers shake their heads sadly at the unwashed masses who just don't understand QUALITY and ARTISTRY.
There is a part of me, and I’ll admit it’s probably a snobby part, that also balks at the idea of measuring the worth of a game by its length. We don’t value paintings by the foot, do we? When you pay more for a nice Scotch, you don’t get more in the bottle, you simply get a better product. We don’t remove points from certain films because they’re under three hours, and likewise epic-length films aren’t better simply because they’re longer.
It can be frustrating when people dismiss entertainment due to its length, but I’m uncomfortable with casting any judgment on anyone due to how or why they do or don’t buy certain games. Keep in mind that games, in a broad sense, are supposed to be fun.
The dollar per hour valuation isn't meaningless
I know, I know, claiming games are supposed to be fun is heretical to a critic. We don’t expect to go to Schindler’s List to like, enjoy it, but for most people the hobby of gaming is primarily about the pursuit of pleasure. We want to have fun, we want to be told a story, and we want to enjoy ourselves. That may not be true for everyone, or every game, but I’d argue that the idea of “fun” and “enjoyment” drive most game purchases.
That being said, buying a video game is very much a zero sum action. We have a limited amount of money, and a limited amount of time, and buying any game removes some of both. Some of us have more money than time. Others have more time than money.
Your personal scale in terms of both money and time isn't wrong, and if you’re a cash-strapped gamer who can only afford one or two games on occasion, if that, you’re going to approach your buying decisions differently than those of us who get our games for free, or are lucky enough to have an extensive budget for our leisure time.
Judging value by time isn’t the right way to look at games critically, and I’d hate to start using that measurement in reviews. On the other hand, the critical success or failure of a game is only one thing to take into account when players make purchasing decisions, and those decisions are incredibly personal. Should we give points, or take them away, due to the length of the game? I'd argue not, but I think it's something you should put into a review so players can make a more informed purchasing decision.
And there's nothing wrong with using, or writing, reviews to help people make a purchasing decision. Some of us only have a few hours per week to play games, and we may want a full story with a solid beginning, middle, and end that only takes a few hours to finish. Others may have a limited budget, and they’re forced to make decisions about games based on the amount of time they’ll get out of the experience. Both need to get that information from a review, and neither are wrong for wanting to be informed.
Buying a video game is very much a zero sum action. We have a limited amount of money, and a limited amount of time, and buying any game removes some of both.
Critics don’t have to look at games and see a dollar per hour value, and that’s a pretty shitty way to judge games as art. But I also get uncomfortable when critics, writers, or even developers sneer at players who are being smart consumers and making purchasing decisions to get the most bang for their buck, especially at launch when games are their most expensive.
I have four kids, and you better believe I think of the cost per plate when we go out to eat, and that changes where we might go. It doesn’t mean I don’t like or appreciate better food, served in teeny tiny portions artfully prepared, it just means that in this situation value is important, and it’s definitely a factor. I'm not devaluing the art of food, I'm just taking a bunch of personal factors into account, and finding out that the Olive Garden isn't terrible for families.
There is nothing wrong with passing on a game that sounds interesting because it’s too short, and there is nothing wrong with loving games that can be finished in a few hours. Purchasing decisions are often predicated on factors that aren’t just pure quality or polish. Players know what they do and don’t want out of their gaming dollars on a personal level, and it’s time for the critics to stop feeling like they can sneer at those who may be dealing with a tight budget.
This attitude that anyone who doesn't buy shorter, higher-concept games are “part of the problem” is wrong, wrong, wrong. People buy and play video games for many reasons, and it's not up to us to cast judgment on them.