I love pretty much all games – especially video games. At their best, I think they can be among the highest forms of interactive art. (Play the demo too. Trust me.)
Occasionally, people ask me why I don’t write very much about them. This blog post is my general response.
It takes a lot of time to talk or write intelligently about video games. I honestly don’t know how video game critics manage it. Video games aren’t like most other media.
I’m a fan of a lot of different forms of art and entertainment, and I studied a lot art and art criticism when I was at university. In my experience the composition and consumption of a conversation; whether it be a verbal interaction, written paper, or uploaded video; takes about the same time to actually generate, regardless of the media you are trying to critique. However, a key difference is time needed for research.
In December 2013, Wasteland 2 became available via Steam’s Early Access program. Since I am a big Fallout fan, and the Fallout series is said to be the spiritual successor to the original Wasteland, I thought I’d play the Wasteland series and then replay Fallout series of games. While I have played (and beaten) all the games in the Fallout series before, the last time I played the first three games in the series was about 20 years ago. I wanted to be able to compare and contrast the games of both franchises while they were relatively fresh in my mind.
If you are not familiar with all games in the series, I’ve provided a list of the games an links to there Wikipedia pages below:
- Fallout (series overview)
- Fallout 1
- Fallout 2
- Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel
Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel
- Fallout 3
- Fallout: New Vegas
- Wasteland 2
It took me over 800 hours (20 full time work weeks) to complete one play through for Fallout 1, 2, 3, and New Vegas:
- 27 hours for Fallout 1
- 67 hours for Fallout 2
- 330 hours for Fallout 3
- 400+ hours for Fallout: New Vegas
I tried to play Wasteland 1, but couldn’t stick with it due to its archaic nature. Due to time constraints, I skipped Fallout Tactics and I couldn’t play the release version of Wasteland 2 (which was made available September 2014).
For a comparison, lets say I wasn’t familiar with any of the films directed by Stanley Kubric and Christopher Nolan and I wanted to determine if there is any truth to the claim that Nolan is a successor to the late Kubrick, in terms of directing. If I sat down and watched all of the feature length films they have both created (13 for Kubric and 9 for Nolan), I’d only have to have spent about 47.5 hours watching movies. That’s less time than I spent on Fallout 2 alone.
Yes, I know that there are some people who can get through the Fallout games way faster than I can. I have completionist tendencies, I probably spend way to much time thinking about character generation, and I get easily sidetracked in open-world games doing things like this:
The above is not a screen shot from my gameplay, but is the sort of thing I might do in a Bethesda game.
However, even if we look at HowLongToBeat, a website that focuses on game completion times, we are still looking at pretty high play times. I’ve include a break down of them below (Main Storyline | Completionist – Title):
- 16.5 hrs | 33.5 hrs – Fallout 1
- 30.5 hrs | 80.5 hrs – Fallout 2
- 20 hrs | 35.5 hrs – Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel
- 35.5 hrs | 105.5 hrs – Fallout 3 (Game of the Year Edition)
- 41 hrs | 165 hrs – Fallout: New Vegas (Ultimate Edition)
- N/A | 30 hrs – Wasteland
- 37.5 hrs | 87.5 hrs – Wasteland 2
Given the age of Wasteland, not much data is available for it.
Given these numbers, there’s a good expectation that a player just following the main storyline (and potentially bypassing a lot of the games’ content) is still going to rack up 123.5 hours of playtime to have completed the games I did, or 211 hours to finish the games I set out to play. A completionist player would be looking at 384.5 hours to finish the four games I played, or 537.5 hours to complete all the games in both series.
And that’s just assuming one play through. These games have content that changes through out the game as you play, based on how you play; and they have multiple endings, also based on how you play.
By now, I’m sure you’ve put together why I one reason why don’t write about video games very much. It takes a lot more time and effort to play a game (20+ hours) than it does to watch a movie (2-ish hours). Or listen to a song (5-ish minutes). Or (in most cases) read a book (~4-8 hours).
Further, unless you’re screen capturing your entire playthrough, there’s no lasting record for you to go back and use for comparison, except what exists in your own brain. If the game allows, you may be able to keep a lot of save files, but some games limit your total number of saves to potentially as few as two. Also, unlike more traditional media/art, games may need to be played multiple times for full effect – as each playthrough may be significantly different than the last (depending on the game).
Lastly, lest I forget, unlike most other modern media, video games can still run into technical problems that can really stymie their use. It is possible to spend tens of hours trying to get a game running, only to find that you can’t get it to work at all on your hardware; or to play through most of the title only to encounter a game breaking bug you can’t recover from; or to suffer a calamity that causes your save file to be destroyed or deleted – forcing you to start all over again.
Console? I don’t understand.
I would estimate that it takes me 2-6 hours to write, edit, and publish a thoughtful article regardless of subject matter. If I tackle movies, TV shows, music, books, or live theatre; this would normally work out pretty well. I can probably consume a movie, couple of TV shows, an album, a book, or a play in four or less hours. If I published every other day and only worked during work hours, I would still have about 8 work hours for additional research, fact checking, transit times, unforeseen problems, and interacting with peers and/or paymasters. There’s some give there if I wanted to write a piece about a movie trilogy, and wanted to re-watch it to make sure I’m remembering everything correctly.
When it comes to video games, I would be looking at a probably a minimum 20 hours of game play to generate an article. That’s 2.5 working days of game content I’d have to consume for material to generate an article – 5 times the amount of media I’d need to consumption I was working most other fields of art. Given my general enjoyment of longer games, games that support multiple playthroughs, and my some-what goofy playstyle, it weeks or months for me to run through adequate content for an article.
In summation, I really respect quality video game critics…
…and understand why so many people create “Let’s Play” videos with in-the-moment commentary. Really, who has time for thoughtful, insightful, and in-depth analysis?
Images in this post were used without seeking permission. I believe their inclusion falls under fair use. If an image in this post is yours, and you feel its use is inappropriate; please contact me and let me know.