Ration Gaming: The little by little approach

When I was a kid I used to love sinking hours upon hours into my games in my free time. As I got older, school finished and university and a job ate into more of my time. Weekly marathon sessions on Final Fantasy and other games just weren’t possible anymore. I had to ration my gaming into smaller chunks. This dividing of my gaming time has actually helped my enjoyment of several titles. Does rationing our gameplay lead to the games having a far greater impact?

Flashback to high school, the night before my English exam and I’m sitting playing Final Fantasy VIII at one in the morning, my exam was starting in 8 hours. Fortunately I passed. But that’s just how I always was with games, I’d sit up all night and get into school the next day and take on whatever it threw at me, every time. The much harder work requirements of university soon caught up with me though and I was faced with a dilemma: keep playing and fail, or cut back and succeed. This choice caused me to make the absolute most of my dwindling time reserved for gaming and thus, appreciate the games themselves in a slightly different, yet more rewarding, way.

The first time I played through Bioshock I wanted to just dive into the world of Rapture for the whole weekend, instead I was limited to roughly 90-minute episodes. As I progressed through 2K’s wonderful story I started to really look forward to my next installment. I would work through my coursework knowing I could reward myself with some gaming at the end of it, it was a classic “carrot on a stick” scenario. It was the perhaps the first time I’d played a game “episodically”.

As events happened in the game they meant more, I remember so vividly how some of the plot twists (don’t worry I won’t spoil them here for the three people yet to play it) had such an impact on me as I’d save and have to wait sometimes up to four or five days before I could play on. The game went from something I would have blasted through in a weekend (yet still have loved) to an experience that took up the best part of just over a month. Bioshock to me was like an enthralling episodic TV show, the next episode always eagerly anticipated to see just where the story was going.

As such it seemed that the gravity of defeating a boss or uncovering more of the plot was far greater than when a series of big events are uncovered in the one session. Instead of experiencing up to four of five plot progressions in one sitting I’d manage possibly one or two, meaning I had much more time outside the game to contemplate what had happened. Much like watching an enthralling TV series, there is time spent between episodes thinking “what happens next?”

Adopting an episodic delivery method has been used by many publishers as a way to drip-feed loyal consumers who will essentially pay-up the cost of a full price title in installments. It has both merits and criticisms, not all games suit the model, but many titles that didn’t quite meet expectations at retail may have fared far better with an episodic delivery system, allowing consumers to take more ‘risks’ by only forking over a small amount to try the first episode. If they don’t like it then it’s only a small sum lost, if they enjoy it then the following episodes are lapped up. Giving players the option to either buy a full game off the shelves or download episodically just opens up another revenue stream for publishers, and gives the player further choice in what can be an expensive hobby.

With the annual winter avalanche of software releases right around the corner it can be difficult to not get swept up in all the PR hype and try and play as much as possible as quickly as possible. Also, with the price of new releases, it makes sense to try and make the game last as long as possible. If you currently sit and blast through your games in a few huge sessions, why not try out a little rationing on even one title. Not every title suits this kind of approach, get a good single player, story-driven game for the best fit. Allocate a little time to it each day or couple of days, enjoy the pacing of the story and treat it like sitting down with an episode of a TV show. With more downtime between major events in the story, it may just have a greater impact. Give it a try.

Some suggested titles:

Bioshock

Alan Wake

Heavy Rain

Metal Gear Solid 4 (cutscenes can drag on a bit though!)

Splinter Cell: Conviction

Halo 3: ODST

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