“Art is how we decorate space;
Music is how we decorate time.”
― Jean Michel Basquiat
A friend of mine looked up from a book and relayed this quote to me in the library one day.
We decorate our lives with things that make them better: a painting hangs on the wall and changes the space, makes it more beautiful or makes it feel different. Music hangs in the air for a brief while. Perhaps a good book decorates our minds with its ideas.
But videogames don't decorate; they dominate.
In general, the nature of the videogame is to take up your attention. All of it. Games aren't merely interactive. They require interaction. They are designed to demand it.
"What the hell is wrong with videogames?"
"They're too long!"
I've heard a lot of people say that because it's too easy to make videogames now, supply is vastly outstripping demand. We're no longer starved for content. There's no need to struggle when the next game is right around the corner.
But I also often hear this problem described as "too many videogames," and rarely framed as an issue of length.
It's rare I can stomach the idea of just trying out an unfamiliar game that takes 10 hours to complete, especially when the reason I want to try it out is because a specific part of it was recommended to me (a perfect example is a game that "has a really good ending").
Why isn't there more of a push for games to be shorter so that it's easier to experience a greater variety of them? So that it's easier to share the average game with my friends and talk with them about it afterwards?
Games can hold your time hostage.
4) No game should last more than two hours
a) Reduce the scope until it fits in two hours or break it down into multiple games
b) Two hours must be an absolute measure: no states should shorten the game or prolong it significantly
c) Even inaction should lead to full experience of a possible scenario in two hours
Pietro Righi Riva's "rejecta" manifesto planted a seed in my head about the nature of videogames and time. The idea of a game delivering an entire, full creative and conceptual payload in one fixed amount of time was a little bit mindboggling.
It's not that I'd always thought it impossible; worse, I had just never even considered it, or if I had, it seemed undesirable.
To attempt to paraphrase the mindset of my past self: Isn't the platonic ideal of videogames one that entertains perfectly, forever?
I'm impatient and I want to see what's beautiful about your game.
Sometimes I want to set my own pace and rush through a videogame, and I'm often frustrated at how the fabric of games is to make me wait, make me grind, make me work for my good experience. In some cases this stuff is necessary for the design, but it's always worth asking: Why is it this long? If I made my game shorter, what would it lose, and is that worth keeping?
There is some unspoken barrier between 'games' and 'prototypes'. I used to make a lot of short Flash games but all the games I actually felt comfortable charging money for were much longer. Like, a game has to be long enough to be a real game. It needs so many levels, or needs to last so long, or whatever.
I'm part of a group experimentally releasing a bunch of 10-minute games and although the results of the experiment remain to be seen (the games are releasing in a few days: on October 15th) it's been good practice to shake myself free of the idea that games require a certain quantity of gameplay.
10mg aims to create a home for short, weird, experimental video games.
If games aren't long, what do we lose?
I lament, in some cases, that a game I love isn't longer. But I never wish it took me more time to have that experience. I want to have more new experiences at the same pace I fell in love with.
It's these beautiful experiences that make a game powerful and worthwhile to me. Sometimes an emotion is only achievable through a slow burn, over hours of pondering, or wandering, or struggle. But games shouldn't take as much time as a player is willing to give up; they should just take as much as is absolutely necessary.
If you take anything away from this post, please let it be this: strive to make your games as short as possible without losing their best qualities.
Go forth, and deliver some powerful videogame moments.
Inspired by my participation in 10mg.