Games are designed to capture your attention. The minimum is gaining your attention long enough for you to make it to the end of its story or reach the maximum level in multiplayer. But some games draw people in for hundreds of hours, immersing them in foreign worlds and teaching them an encyclopedia’s worth of mechanics and interlocking systems.
I fall on the shorter end of this spectrum. I typically spend anywhere from 10 to 50 hours with a game. I rarely go beyond this and frequently spend less than 10 hours with one title. I get my hands on as many different games as I can, ranging across genres and systems, dipping my toes in seemingly every pool of water I come upon.
But this got me thinking. What is it that makes people spend so many hours dissecting one game? And, on the other end of the spectrum, how come some people jump from game to game as soon as their concentration lapses? This may seem like a fairly easy question to answer, but I want to look another level deeper. What specifically is it about games like League of Legends and MMOs that keeps drawing people back in for more? And how come people like me, despite being fascinated with genres like MOBAs and Fighting games, continue to search for the game that can finally hold my attention for weeks, even months at a time.
Let’s start with those games that just sink their teeth into you and never let go. A good friend of mine plays League of Legends almost religiously. He steadily climbs up the ranks, watches Twitch streams, and reads up on new changes, buffs and nerfs. He understands the game at such a high level that he can read complex plays and knows exactly where he needs to be during every second of a game.
It took him several years to get to this point, however. But because he’s put so much time into learning each of League’s dozens of characters and mastering its ever-changing systems, he has almost no interest in other games anymore.
No matter what award-winning, critically acclaimed, genre-defining title I pitch to him he always just boots up the League client and hops back into Summoner’s Rift. But I do understand it. He’s put so much time into learning this one particular game that clicking through its three lanes is extremely satisfying. He understands League of Legends so intrinsically that he has no interest in delving into another title.
Me on the other hand, I jump from game to game. Sometimes, I just skim the surface, playing through the tutorial and then dipping my toes into the waters before drying off my foot and moving on. Given my job as a video game journalist, I try to at least touch on every major release. What this means is that I tend to spend very little time with every game that arrives in the mail. But I have gravitated towards shorter, more compact experiences such as Journey, ABZU, or Inside. There is still plenty to see without having to devote days of my life to reaching the game’s inevitable conclusions and seeing the credits tumble down the screen.
But it isn’t that I don’t want to enjoy longer titles. I constantly tell myself that I’m going to crack down on the growing list of expansive RPGS in my backlog. But their length is intimidating. So I often jump into a massive RPG put in 10 or 15 hours and then fall off.
This happened recently with Tokyo Mirage Sessions. I started the game, worked through the first several hours and was just getting into the flow of things when a busy week reared its head. I was barely able to pick up a controller and by the time Friday rolled around the game had just fallen off my radar, replaced by other experiences. I still tell myself that I’ll get back to it; just like I keep saying I’ll finish playing through Persona 3 and 4 before Persona 5 arrives in February.
So many new and different games keep popping up that serve to distract me from what I was previously playing. Just this week, for example, I started both Deus EX Human Revolution and the Banner Saga, all while telling myself that I would start another play through of The World Ends With You.
I don’t spend enough time with these extremely deep titles to get drawn back by their mechanics; at least not to the same extent as my League of Legends playing friend. There are series that I understand much more deeply than others, and I often return to them, but I still only ever seem to spend a maximum of 100 hours with a game. And that’s only if it really sinks its teeth into me, presenting me with a wide open world like that of The Witcher 3, filled with endless possibilities.
Games draw people in with their stories, worlds, and mechanics. Of these three, worlds and mechanics are better suited for bringing players back time and time again. Exploring a massive sandbox is no small commitment and can simply be a good way to unwind. On the other hand, learning every aspect of a game’s mechanics can take even longer, giving the player incredible control over the world and much more satisfaction when they tear through a platformer, rise up the leaderboards in an FPS, or reach the top ranks in a MOBA.
Everyone has something different that they look for in a game. And while I typically play games as interactive stories, which makes successive playthroughs less enjoyable, it also allows me to sample a greater range of titles. I don’t see changing the way I play games anytime soon, but maybe I’ll find that tone title that inspires me to commit to learning every one of its intricate systems, mastering everything it has to offer.