Mar 21, 2012

Video Games, The Rush To Win

I've been hearing a lot of criticism of the ending to Mass Effect 3. People who finished the game within 4 or even 3 days of its release hate the ending. That's some pretty hardcore playing for a game which requires at least around 24 hours of playing to complete. I play games much more slowly. Many people I know, for example, finished Mass Effect 2 in something like 40 hours. I clocked 86, including all the downloadable content.

I'm not sure why it seems to take me so much longer. I enjoy taking my time. I like to look at the scenery, consider my dialogue options, and I'll happily use less-effective weapons and armour choices if I prefer how they look. I'll even take the time to make sure a less-successful outcome if I think it makes a better story.

I don't do so well spending long periods of time playing a single game. Long stretches make me feel drained, and completing a game after a lengthy playing session leaves me feeling a heavy sense of "Well, what now?" Like I've let myself down by finishing the story too soon. While I understand the desire to get to play a great game more often, I don't understand the drive to complete it as soon as possible. Even on a day when I'm at home with nothing else to do, I just can't work out how someone can manage, or even stand, to play for a full 10-12 hours in a single day.

To any of my gamer followers reading, particularly those who've played the likes of Skyrim or Mass Effect, which do involve a hefty enough investment of time, what is it that drives you to finish? Where does the rush to win come from? Do you ever feel like you're missing out by just powering through a game as quickly as possible? Is there something in particular you get from finishing a game as quickly as possible?

Or is there anyone like me out there? People who like to take their time in a game, even when they get a long stretch of time in which to play?

Just a note to say there'll be no blog post this Friday as I'm a groomsman at a friend's wedding. Have a great weekend everyone!


  1. I'm with you Paul, I don't get the rush. I can appreciate the urgency of finishing a particular arc of the plot, but rushing the whole game seems wasteful to me.


    1. I'm 28 hours into Mass Effect 3 and I know there are at least three major missions to go before I enter endgame, not to mention the remaining sidequests I have. I've heard of people finishing the game in 26 hours. I can't see it being as enjoyable as taking the time to watch all the little pieces of story unfold around you.

  2. For me, it's a rush to see how it ends; Whether that be the present plot-arc or the game as a whole. When I used to play RTS games and the like, I never really rushed through them. In fact, I often failed to finish them. It's the plot that pushes me on and they didn't have enough of one.

    But, with games like Mass Effect, there's also an element of the nature of the plot. I've happily been taking a leisurely route through Skyrim because I don't feel any pressure to finish quickly from the story itself. This is odd, because there are fire-breathing dragons out there killing people. You come across them around the place. You don't just stumble onto Reaper attacks in Mass Effect. So, I think it probably has something to do with the degree of investment in the characters and the setting that Bioware's writers manage to elicit in me. A part of me can't stand to leave these digital characters hanging.

    Now, I've a lot of experience with many forms of storytelling (mostly on the receiving end) and with software development, so I have a reasonable idea of what can and can't happen, both from the standpoint of narrative imperative and technical limitations. Some of the scenarios I envision that drive me to burn through those games are technically or narratively highly unlikely. I also know that, despite what all of the scripting in the game tells me, it makes no commercial sense for the developers to have made completion time a key metric for determining the outcome of the game, so there is no actual need to hurry. Nevertheless, I have done so on my initial play-through of every one of the Mass Effect series. Oblivion too. Which I think is kind of impressive as far as that writing goes really.

    Mind you, I read a lot of books in one or two sittings too. So I guess it's me too.

    1. Well books are different. With a book, even if you read it quickly, you've still read the whole book.

      With a game, to finish the game as quickly as possible, you're going to miss out on something. Whether it's because you ignored one character's sub plot or rushed through some dialogue options.

      Part of what I'm loving about Mass Effect 3 is the fact that I haven't finished yet. I love the sense of dread everywhere I go. Everywhere you can go has been touched by the war and at times you feel helpless. That's a great feeling as a player. The sense of "what will we have to sacrifice in order to win?" But the tricky part is in keeping the player precisely on that line. If the line is crossed, either the game is over and you've won (and the story ends) or the characters have suffered through so much that, as an audience, you start to lose empathy. It can seem like the suffering in the story is arbitrary rather than for the sake of the story, and therefore it's less a matter of desperately trying to succeed and more like playing Angst Bingo, ticking off one horrible event after another.

      The best stories are the ones you don't actually want to end. As much as you want to see how things turn out, you're so caught up in the pathos of the story that it's the journey you play for, not just the final destination.

    2. I think that whole skipping of side-quests is part of the feeling of urgency for me too. I've tried going through all the content and I find it breaks the immersion in the game for me. The main quest keeps pushing how things are going to hell, how time is short etc. but apparently my character thinks it's fine to take hours/days out to go find some guy a book or whatever. It just doesn't work in my head.

    3. In some games I would agree, and I was worried that Mass Effect 3 would have some of those moments.

      So far though, I've found that nearly all the sidequests matter to the war. You secure extra ships for your fleets, help colonies fight back against Cerberus and join the war effort, gather intelligence on the Reapers, and even ensure that important artifacts are recovered so that, after the war, whole species can still retain their culture and society.

      Every little thing you do feels important, and it's clear in the storyline that yes, the fight is hard, but you need every ally and advantage you can find.

      That said, as far as I've seen, there's only one mission where the game tells you "Get this done ASAFP" and it's a shame it does, because there are one or two side-missions that can't be completed afterwards. Aside from that, there is nothing I've seen so far to suggest that any one mission is inherently more important than another, aside from my own knowledge, as a player, of which ones cause the main plot to progress.

      This is actually one of the only games I've played where doing side missions doesn't feel like I'm ignoring the main plot.

  3. The only game I play is words with friends and i must admit I'm a bit obsessed. There is strategy in addition to the creation of words. If I'm behind, I definitely take my time, but if I'm winning I go gangbusters!