Sorrel Side Quests: For Long Match Defense

I play video games. That’s what I do. I love playing games almost as much as I love talking about them, and that means I spend a parcel time doing it. As big budget games continue to grow and more of them compete for my attention, sometimes I think it would be better if they were all a bit 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 great side content will be rolling for almost 300 hours. For reference, around this time, a fan of the genre might watch Sergio Leone’s Classic Western. For a few dollars more about 150 times. And yet, every 2 hours of For a few dollars more can’t withstand the emotional impact of 300 hours of Red Dead Redemption 2.

Likewise, NieR: Replicant, a fantasy RPG published by Square Enix, took me around 150 hours to complete, which is far longer than I committed to trying to complete Brandon Sanderson’s popular novel The way of kings. Still, I can’t bring myself to say that I regret my time with NieR: Replicant – I finished it, which is more than I can say for The way of kings.

There are dozens of examples like this, games that are significantly longer than their genre counterparts in any other medium, and it can be hard to see why. What is it about Red Dead Redemption 2 which demands almost two whole weeks of the life of its players? Why exactly NieR: Replicant need to stuff yourself with a random fishing mini-game? This is a question I’ve been thinking about 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 ability to imitate real life. In many cases, the player’s relationship to the game is totally dependent on how much agency they feel they have and how alive their character feels. One of the best magic tricks a game can pull off is writing a character that feels real and complete and allowing the player to inhabit their space for an extended period of time. Arthur Morgan, the protagonist armed with Red Dead Redemption 2, feels real from the second it appears on screen, but as the player becomes a part of Arthur Morgan’s life, his relationships, the times he speaks and the times he is silent, he becomes harder to distinguish between feeling real and being real.

That’s not to say that video games are the only medium that can accomplish verisimilitude between their characters, nor do I mean that all characters in long-form video games are fundamentally important. I wouldn’t dare suggest that, say, Chris Redfield of resident Evil is a more immediately important character than Rick Deckard of blade runner (at least not in print – in my personal life I probably still prefer Chris Redfield). What I mean is that through 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 really deep 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 office. Do you agree? Tell Sorrel by tweeting her at @toad type.