Game Time With Mister Raroo logo [Do you finish your games? Do you believe a game’s quality is measured in part by its length? Regular GSW columnist Mister Raroo takes a brief moment to reflect upon why some games keep his attention while others don’t. As it turns out, he loses interest in most of the games he plays, and he thinks he has the answer to why this is.]

I have a guilty secret: I rarely finish video games. There was a time I used to play every game I tackled to completion, often replaying games multiple times to uncover every last secret. Not so these days.

Between working full time, pursuing a Master’s degree, and being actively involved in family life, the spare morsels of time I have to devote to gaming are a luxury I try not to waste. When a game gets to the point where any degree of tedium sets in, I often end up moving on to something else.

It’s not really the fault of the games, I suppose. Nobody wants to pay $60 for an experience that is over in an evening. Thus, games are usually stuffed with enough content keep players busy for weeks or even months. That said, too often the length of games is artificially lengthened in order to provide players with the perception of a longer experience. I’ve done enough backtracking and fetch quests in games to know filler when I see it.

It pleases me to report, then, that the other night I actually finished a game. I did it in one sitting, too. The game was Portal, which I’d heard so many great things about but never got around to playing until then.

Instead of being the equivalent of a gaming banquet, Portal is like a rich, satisfying snack that provides just the amount of content needed to leave the player completely happy and fulfilled. I began playing around 11:00 pm, and just after 2:00 am I was watching the end credits. I wasn’t hungry for more and instead felt a huge sense of elation as I climbed into bed next to my snoring wife.

Of course, not all games are of the same caliber as Portal, but the point is this: Sometimes less is more. In an era where players will lament a 10-hour game as being “too short,” Portal’s 3-4 hour length sounds downright criminal.

However, playing Portal made me realize that it’s not how long it takes to finish a game that matters, but how enjoyable the journey is. A concise experience that never drags or runs off course is so much more appealing to me than a lengthy time investment that has a tendency to lag or lose direction. Portal’s length is matched by its price point, which is a fraction of the cost of most retail games. It’s interesting, then, that I had more fun playing a short game like Portal than any “full-length” game in recent memory.

Mister Raroo Playing Portal I understand that Portal is a rare gem that stands head and shoulders above many other games, so brevity in games isn’t necessarily the be-all, end-all requirement for crafting an ideal gaming experience.

If I became bored playing a short game, I’m not necessarily going to finish it. And, on the other side of that coin, if I’m engaged with a longer game, I might end up completing it. In the end, it’s the quality of the content and its ability to keep me entertained that dictates whether or not I made it to the finish line.

Obviously, given the amount of video games I don’t finish, finding something as wonderful as Portal that hooks me the entire time is not something that will happen very often. Hopefully more developers will realize that it’s not the breadth of a journey that counts, but rather the importance is in what happens along the way. Whether a game is short or long isn't as important as whether or not it is continually fun and enticing.

Unfortunately, if what I read on gaming forums and message boards any time a new game is released is any indication, the criteria of a game’s quality being related to its length isn’t going to be dismissed in the foreseeable future. Therefore, I have a feeling that instead of pithy games that hold my attention the entire time, I’ll be left with a stack of unfinished games that keeps growing and growing.

[You may reach Mister Raroo at mister.raroo@gmail.com]