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Pop Culture Corner: The Long and the Short of It

Games can vary wildly in length, and that’s a good thing

Persona 5

Most movies are about two hours long. A vast, vast majority of movies are between 90 and 150 minutes long. Every once in a while, a particularly short flick will pop up on the silver screen, and every once in a while an epic will stretch to three hours.

About a decade ago, I played the very excellent game Portal. It’s one of the tremendous feats of game design in, well, game history: it introduces a simple mechanic—a portal gun that shoots two portals that you traverse between—and iterates on that through smartly-designed levels. Gameplay speed varies, but a Portal playthrough usually takes the length of, oh, one Lord of the Rings film to the credits (whether or not it takes you the standard or extended version of your LOTR film of choice depends on how good at it you are).

Contrast this with Persona 5: Royal. I started it a few weeks ago. It’s a JRPG about social justice, high school, police wrongdoing, being stylish as h*ck, and much more. I’m 43 hours into it at this point, and I think I’m near halfway done with the game.

Oh, and I’m a speed reader who is apparently playing it quickly.

One of the reasons why I love video games, and why video games have risen to such prominence, is that there is a game for everyone and a game length for everyone. If you don’t like movies because they’re too short or too long, well, you’re out of luck—film just isn’t the medium for you. But if you don’t like your games too short or too long, there is a game that will strike your fancy, and I guarantee it.

Furthermore, many games are open-ended in a way that film or television simply can’t be (other than, eh, your infinite soap opera). Rocket League came out nearly five years ago. There is no story. You never see the credits unless you click the “watch credits” button on the main menu for some reason. Instead, you simply play rocket powered car soccer ad nauseam for 938 hours and counting, so says my Steam profile. If you’ve ever played the multiplayer section of Forza, Halo, Call of Duty, or Fornite, you’ve experienced the same: you play it as much as you want.

Of course, this leads to an interesting challenge when partaking in games criticism: just how much does a game’s length matter to its overall quality? How do you compare an expertly-crafted game that takes five hours to finish to a very good one with 15 hours of content? Should the ratio of dollars to entertainment hours be a factor?

This difference ultimately depends on how much time you have to spend on games, which is, in some ways, a much larger obstacle for adults than limited funds are for kids. Most readers of this here site have $60 in disposable income to spend on a 100-hour game, but whether or not you can finish the game in any reasonable amount of time is something else entirely.

The beauty of gaming is that, if you happen to be a parent with precious little time to play, there are two- and three- and four-hour games for you—single player games like Portal and Firewatch or multiplayer games like Madden and Fortnight that allow you to play a match here and there. And if you’ve got large swaths of your evenings and weekends open, something along the lines of a Persona or Witcher or Red Dead Redemption could be for you.

Too many negative connotations for the term “gamer” still float around for me to declare myself so. But games have been an undeniable part of my pop culture experience, and even if you don’t know trigger from triangle there are games for you, too.

Persona 5: Royal

Play it on: PS4

Length: Hahahahahahaha (About 100 hours, per

A good game for: JRPG fans, anime fans, people with hours and hours to put into a deliberately moving yet engrossing experience, those with an affinity for talking cats

A bad game for: People who dislike turn-based combat, those who find JRPG tropes boring or frustrating, anyone who wants to finish a game in a reasonable amount of time