In praise of short games

I have many halcyon memories of playing games as a kid, but looking back, there is one that seems particularly fantastical: I used to play very long games. In titles such as the Civilization series, I’d choose the largest possible maps and take advantage of any option to keep playing after I’d already won. I even remember one childhood X-Com game that I never finished – I’d effectively maxed out the tech tree, and years and years of in-game time would pass, but I’d still happily roam around planet Earth swatting UFOs instead of progressing to the endgame.




Now that I’m grown up and working, when I play strategy games, I always turn down the map size or select the “short” campaign. That’s the only way I’ll have time to finish and then move onto something else. (This kills a second bird, too – shorter games are a better fit for the front-loaded pacing of many strategy titles.)  But my options are more limited with “narrative”-style titles, such as RPGs. Offhand, I can think of only one short RPG in recent times, Recettear, and that was a story-light game. Most RPGs, especially high-profile ones, are packed with plot, dialogue, side quests, and, of course, grinding. I still enjoy lengthy RPGs, but I often don’t have the time to finish them – when I buy them at all. The big exception is portable games – my current PSP title (Persona 3), and the two before that (Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre) are all behemoth RPGs – because there, I can take several months to chip away at them during my daily commute.


And playing on after I’ve won? Unimaginable. Now, strategy, RPG, or otherwise, the closer I come to the finish line, the more I want to be done with the game.


(I don’t have this problem with other media – I’ll still happily read a doorstop fantasy novel – because even the longest novel is much, much shorter than the typical RPG.)


What about you? Do you prefer to play short or long games? Do you keep playing after you’ve won? And has this changed over time?