I play video games. It’s what I do. I enjoy playing games nearly as much as I enjoy talking about them, and that means I spend a lot of time doing it. As big-budget games continue to grow, and as more of them vie for my attention, sometimes I think it would be best if they were all a little shorter - but some games need to be long.
Take Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar Games’ sprawling western epic. According to HowLongToBeat, an online resource that compiles playtimes, a player who wants to enjoy the main story and some of the game’s excellent side content will roll credits nearly 300 hours in. For reference, in that time, a fan of the genre could watch Sergio Leone’s western classic For a Few Dollars More roughly 150 times. And yet, all 2 hours of For a Few Dollars More cannot stand up to the emotional impact of all 300 hours of Red Dead Redemption 2.
Similarly, NieR:Replicant, a fantasy RPG published by Square Enix, took me about 150 hours to complete, which is much more time than I’ve committed to trying to finish Brandon Sanderson’s popular novel The Way of Kings. Still, I can’t bring myself to say I regret my time with NieR:Replicant – I did finish it, which is more than I can say for The Way of Kings.
There are dozens of examples just like this, games that are significantly longer than their genre equivalents in any other medium, and it can be hard to figure out why. What is it about Red Dead Redemption 2 that demands nearly two entire weeks of its players’ lives? Why, exactly, does NieR:Replicant need to pad itself out with a random fishing mini-game? It’s a question I’ve pondered for a long time, and I think I know the answer: you don’t live in any other medium.
Video games, in their current state, offer the opportunity to emulate real life. In many cases, the player’s relationship with the game is totally dependent on how much agency they feel that they have, and how alive their character feels. One of the best magic tricks a game can pull is writing a character who feels real and complete and allowing the player to inhabit their space for a sustained period of time. Arthur Morgan, the gun-toting protagonist of Red Dead Redemption 2, feels real from the second he appears on screen, but as the player becomes a part of Arthur Morgan’s life, his relationships, the moments he speaks and the moments he’s silent, it becomes harder to draw the distinction between feeling real and being real.
This is not to say that video games are the only medium which can accomplish verisimilitude among their characters, nor do I mean to imply that all characters in long video games are fundamentally important. I would not dare to suggest that, say, Chris Redfield from Resident Evil is a more immediately important character than Rick Deckard from Blade Runner (at least not in print - in my personal life, I probably still prefer Chris Redfield). What I do mean to say is that, thanks to the combination of interactivity and length, the modern video game is uniquely suited to telling stories that can connect an audience to a character in a truly profound way.
Sorrel Kerr-Jung is a freshman studying games and animation at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Sorrel by tweeting her at @gendertoad.