Missus Raroo Says logo[Missus Raroo once again takes the helm in the Game Time column, bringing her unique and personal perspective to the topic of commitment. With our lives seemingly getting busier all the time, it’s tough to commit to just about anything, especially gaming. Missus Raroo examines how in many ways her life has become a series of “quickie” commitments, and brings this discussion around toward ways in which games can successfully make use of the “quickie” mentality.]

My Life in Quickies

There are a few things in life that I wish would always last longer, things such as my almost-two-year old son’s naps and the time between my head hitting the pillow and my alarm clock going off. Notice that both of these examples involve sleep. I love sleep—I have since I was a little kid. Unlike my son, who seems to defy the sleep requirements for a toddler since he barely naps and can stay up as late as a teenager, I was the kid who could fall asleep standing up or while sitting in a high chair with my face in a cup.

So, barring sleep, I must say that I often prefer that things in life would be shorter. Take movies. I don’t have the patience for movies that last much more than about 90-minutes. In fact, since our son was born, Mister Raroo and I have given up on watching most movies altogether, opting instead to rent TV shows on DVD. While it can seem nearly impossible to squeeze a complete movie into our evening schedule, we can easily commit to fitting in a quick television episode.

Happy FamilyOf course, ironically, we have been known to become addicted to certain television series and end up watching multiple episodes in a single sitting. We’ll get to the credit music, hit “next” on our DVD remote, and anxiously hope that there’s still another episode on the disc. While this means the sum of our watching time sometimes ends up being way more than the time it would’ve taken to watch a movie, the initial commitment is something that is always much easier to make.

Being afraid of commitment is not something people would normally associate with me. I love being married and never went through the experience of having cold feet before our wedding. I never thought twice about ending up stuck in a job forever nor did I worry about how being a mother would be a life-long endeavor. These are major life commitments, but they are ones that are easy for me. The ones that I find hard are the day-to-day commitments that I face.

Documenting the Momentary

Enter journal writing. Mister Raroo has an impressive history of keeping a handwritten journal. He has journals dating as far back as second grade. He kept a regular journal throughout his high school and college years, recently allowing me to read them despite the amount of potentially embarrassing content that you can only imagine fill the days of a teenage and young adult male.

Mister Raroo’s journal writing began its latest iteration on April 18, 2003. Since that date, Mister Raroo has written in his journal every single day, even when he’s been sick, when we’ve been out of town, on our wedding night, and on the day our son was born. No matter how tired he feels, it is certain he will write in his journal tonight before he goes to sleep without fail.

Me? I’m another case. Mister Raroo’s journal writing inspired me to follow suit. I, however, had to overcome my fear of committing to a journal by purchasing a special 10-year journal that has a page for every day of the year. Each page is subdivided into ten rows so that this year I write in one space and a year from now, I will be on the same page, but one row down. The beauty of it is that this layout means that there are only four lines to write on for any given day.

Writing in Missus Raroo's JournalA journal filled with blank lines seemed like a big commitment to me, but four lines is something that I knew I could manage. Even then, I am very guilty of cheating. I will sometimes get as much as a week behind in my writing and will then have to backtrack. Mister Raroo is kind enough to lend me his journal for reference, because it’s amazing how difficult it can be to remember what happened just a day or two earlier. It can be downright scary how much I forget, which brings me to Twitter.

Just as journal writing has become a crucial record of our lives, Mister Raroo has again persuaded me to try “journaling” on the Web. I have some friends who keep blogs on Friendster and BlogSpot and reading their entries is a nice way for me to keep abreast of their lives even though they live far away. Committing to this type of site is something that I’ve never pursued for myself, though, since it seems too much like work to me. It’s like a journal with blank pages.

But then, just a week or two ago, Mister Raroo convinced me to give Twitter a shot. Its 140 character limit per entry makes it the web-equivalent of my four-line journal and I’m digging it. The thing is, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling overwhelmed by all of the time commitments we face. Perhaps other people are feeling as commitment-phobic as me and that’s why Twitter is so popular. Perhaps that is also why texting has become the preferred method of communication for the younger generation.

Texting While SleepingOur 16-year old niece and her friends have been texting through their teen years much more than talking on the phone or sending emails, which were my main modes of communication throughout high school and college. And, while I hardly text since it costs extra on my phone plan (and our niece gets a kick out of how truly inept I am at texting), I can see the beauty of it. It’s the quickie method of communication.

With texting, you don’t have to worry about filling in a conversation with small talk before you ask what you want to ask and you don't have to figure out how you will awkwardly end a conversation that’s going on too long. If you write an email, it can come off rude if you’re too brief, but with a text you only write a little because that’s what is required.

Of course, just as Mister Raroo and I have been guilty of having one short TV episode viewing turn into a full marathon night, we’ve seen how text messaging can also balloon into one of the longest short-term commitments. Our niece’s best friend has been known to send nearly a thousand texts in a single day and we are firsthand witnesses to her literally sending them in her sleep.

The Quickie In Gaming

And so I’ll finally come around to my point on gaming. Just as I have come to appreciate “quickie” communication, I have also become a big proponent for what I’m going to call “quickie” gaming. This wasn’t always the case for me. When Mister Raroo first introduced me to gaming, I had so much more spare time on my hands that one of my favorite games back then was Chrono Trigger—Mister Raroo even recorded a song years back with the main refrain, “Akemi Loves to Play Chrono Trigger.”

These days, however, I play games that require just a small commitment or I don’t play them at all. Below are several key features that I consider to be the main ingredients of a good quickie game:

No “story schmory”!

I enjoy when a game follows a good story arc, but I cannot afford to get bogged down with long in-game cinemas and drawn out dialogue. I will give up on a game that makes you commit to some lengthy introduction, because I want to be able to jump right into the gameplay. And, in cases when there is dialogue or cut scenes, they should be easy to skip or fast forward through.

A recent example of an offending game to this rule is Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King. Just as the title is way too long for its own good, the game’s introduction also dragged on to the point of exhaustion. Mister Raroo excitedly downloaded this game on the day it became available on the Wii Shopping Channel, but when he gave it a spin, I goaded him about how it was so slow to get into the actual playing.

I think I may have ruined the game for him with my criticism, because he gave up on it fairly quickly. But, he had to agree that at least the initial commitment that it took to get to the playable parts made it seem impractical for our lifestyle of limited playing time.

Sailors!Games should not require you to remember what to do or where to go next.

Just as I cannot remember what I did a day or two ago to catch up in my journal, there is no way that I can remember what to do in a game that depends on my memory. These days, my playing sessions may be interrupted by days, weeks, months, or sometimes years. If a game does not have some built in directions or clues, then I may have no choice but to either backtrack or else restart from the beginning, and in either case, I will usually just not bother picking it up again.

As much as I can sometimes hate story, I did love Shenmue back when I had more playing time. The game isn’t really a “quickie,” but it is an example of how a game can employ clues so that you don’t have to remember what do next. Ryo’s journal was a good enough guide that I never got stuck trying to remember what I was supposed to be doing next. Besides, the questions that he asked around town always made it a no-brainer as far as what I was supposed to working on. This was one of the few games I’ve ever finished to completion and I was able to do so without the assistance of any guide or FAQ.

Games should not require a regular time commitment.

While the requirement of a consistent time commitment is probably not the norm for games, I think I see my share of these types of games since Mister Raroo loves them. With life in general, Mister Raroo is a total creature of routine. He is the one in our household, for example, who keeps us on track with doing laundry once a week. If I were left to my own devices, I would let it pile up until I ran out of underwear. I do get things done, but in big spurts rather than in measured doses.

While Mister Raroo is not only good at, but also seems to enjoy games that require daily or regular play since he works them into his routine, I see these games as a chore. My towns in Animal Crossing always end up filled with weeds, I get lectured in Brain Training about my poor attendance, and my neglected Seaman languishes in a dirty tank. I have a hard enough time keeping up with day-to-day demands of my real life. There is no way I want to have the burden of virtual commitments.

As an added note, another category of gaming that can require regular time investments and is widely popular is online gaming. Luckily Mister Raroo is responsible in communicating his time limits when playing online and never prioritizes online buddies over real life commitments. I hear plenty of stories, though, of how online playing can become as consuming as a full-time job, with strict meet-up times and minimum playing lengths. Talk about a big commitment!

Gaming sessions should be as short as you want or need them to be.

This does not mean that games must be short in total. For example, some of the shortest games out there are “microgames” like with the Wario Ware series. Unfortunately, I’m pretty horrible at these quick paced games since they often rely upon speedy response time and my reflexes are pathetic.

Just Save Already!Moving up from microgames, there are minigames like those in the Mario Party series. While I’m a fan of playing Mario Party minigames in the context of a full game session, I don’t really find it fun to play them separately.

Therefore, when I’m talking about gaming sessions being short, I don’t mean the games must be literally short. Just as a "quickie" in the most common use of the term can occur within the context of a short term relationship or a long term relationship, quickie gaming does not refer to the length of the game in total.

Instead, I just mean that games should have the flexibility of allowing for short playing sessions. You should be able to save your game at any point or in the least very frequently. I can’t tell you how frustrated I’ve gotten when it’s been time to leave our home and here’s Mister Raroo frantically running through a foggy town, into the City Hall, and back to some scary room of Silent Hill: Homecoming just to find a save point.

Quickies For a Better Tomorrow

Quickie gaming is about the only way that I game these days. I’m able to use games as a quick pick-up activity with no stress attached. I can start playing without the fear of having to make some long-term commitment to the game, and when I’m interrupted, which always happens, I don’t have to feel any regret about ending my session wherever I may be.

My only warning is that sometimes the smallest initial commitment can turn into a marathon session. With Pac-Man Championship Edition, I’ve started a single 5-minute session only to get hooked on beating my top score and before I know it, a whole hour will have passed.

Come to think of it, that’s what sometimes happens in life in general. It seems just like yesterday that I first agreed to go catch a movie with Mister Raroo and now we have a whole life together. Sometimes the smallest starts really do give the biggest returns.

All illustrations by Mister Raroo.

[Missus Raroo doesn't consider herself to be a "real" gamer, but between listening to her husband excitedly talk about games on a regular basis and trying her hand at a select few titles herself, she knows a thing or two about video games. She served as co-editor-in-chief of the print version of Game Time With Mister Raroo and was called the "heart and soul" of the zine by faithful readers. Missus Raroo lives in El Cajon, CA with her husband, son, and pets. She can be reached at [email protected].]