By: Quinn Whalen
Back a while, like, a while ago, I was perusing the internet and I saw someone say something along the lines of; “The middle ground game is dead. New games are either a big-budget, highly cinematic, high commitment monster of a game. Or, a small quirky indie game.” This was an interesting statement to read and then to grossly paraphrase. I think there’s some truth to be found here though.
High-profile, current-gen consoles and games–if that’s what the cool kids are calling them anyway–require an increasingly high level of commitment in terms of time and login information. There are a lot of immediate barriers to cross before one can actually play a brand new, Hollywood blockbuster game. There are software updates, hardware updates, online play logins to traverse, whatever Ubisoft Uplay is, maybe a day-one DLC thing you want to download, and beyond that is a game with enough content to fill the lifespan of your average chameleon (5 years). On the flipside, there are your indie games. These are a little easier to pick up and play quickly. They don’t take as much time but can certainly be just as fun and impactful. It is worth noting though that these games can be “too short”, that is to say, not quite long enough for me to get properly invested in what’s going on.
I don’t have anything against Hollywood blockbuster games or indie games, and I also don’t think these are definitely the only two categories for games but, they are simple and quick labels to use that can describe the majority of modern video games. So what exactly is the problem, if any?
Well, on a big scale, there probably isn’t a problem. Middle games are not 100% extinct obviously, even if they are becoming less common. There may however, be a small scale problem for me, and people with similar tastes as me. I like the medium sized game. The length of a game isn’t exactly a make or break thing to most people, but it can play into how I feel about a game. I want to have time to get used to the game and become invested in the characters and story, but I don’t want to have to play it for so long that the story gets monotonous, and I grow to resent the characters for taking away years of my life. There is a happy middle ground to be found somewhere in there, and most games actually get it pretty easily.
The problem with games being too big is usually less in the main game, and more in the infinite number of side missions or collectibles. “Beating the game” remains to have a fairly reasonable estimated duration, but to “100% a game” is becoming daunting to an absurd level. With the growing market, parades of sequels, and this general growth in scale, video games have become a dense medium. There’s a lot going on and it’s very hard to keep up. With games being so enormous, and so expensive, it’s very hard to play everything that interests you.
The prices of games have become interesting to me as well. With games increasing in content, the prices have been increasing as well, which makes sense. More content, more dolla dolla billz. So, with reference to my earlier statement of it becoming hard to play everything that interests you, there is a growing issue (at least for me) that games that seem like they might interest me, are costly and are packed with side content that will almost definitely go untouched. Essentially, what I’m saying is, I will not be buying a new Hollywood blockbuster game that I think “looks neat”.
Looking at my unfairly generalized and exaggerated options, I essentially have to pick between:
Frequently buying small-scale indie games. Or, buying a big Hollywood blockbuster game once a decade. Neither of these options is necessarily bad, they’re just not my favorite choices.
When I think middle ground game, the first thing that comes to mind is Super Mario 64. That game never felt too long or too short to me. I could sit down as a kid, burn away a day, and get through the game. I’d feel pretty good afterwards too. And this was a “100%” completion too. It would take a fair bit of work for my bright-eyed, annoyingly optimistic, kid-self, but it would be a positive experience. If I told my child-self to sit down and play through a modern game, he’d either be confused that it took less time than it did to watch a Veggie Tales movie, or he’d be there until he was my age, and would instead be writing this article about how “future me was an awful, awful person”.
So is there a problem? No, not really. Do I personally have an issue with how things are? Also no, not really. It’s probably for the best that the industry is evolving, providing more content to consumers, and not making Super Mario 64 over and over again. However, I will miss the middle ground games like Bioshock, Super Mario 64, and InFamous. Some games were just the perfect length for me and there will probably be more in the future, it’s just unfortunate that, that seems more and more unlikely.