Entertainment, fast and slow
The final Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality chapter posted today and it’s safe to say that the last month that has been my obsession. It will, inevitably, fade; but it has been a great obsession.
In looking back on my greatest media obsessions, I note one thing. They never end on a binge. I may (often do) start by catching up. Those goes hand in hand with my belief that it’s an efficient use of my time to let others filter out the vast majority of entertainment (unless it’s just clear that it should be in my wheelhouse). But once that filter is hit, then I’m perfectly content to catch up over the space of a weekend/month or whatever.
Part of the enjoyment of truly great writing is letting it roll over you and pondering how the next chapter/episode/book will play out. Rarely does the writer’s answer work as well as all those things you imagined. I’m not just speaking of the final exam, for example many of the writers in the SF club in college debated how to resolve The Best of Both Worlds, part I and I heard several brilliant ideas, the best being totally unfeasible for TV. So, I waited for each month’s Sandman (once I heard about it, roughly halfway through the series). I’m buying each month’s Saga, the same way (having been introduced via the first hardcover). I got up at 5.30 am on Monday mornings to watch the final season of Breaking Bad. The only possible exception to “Don’t finish on a binge” rule I can think of is Patrick O’Brian’s classic series and it’s hard to binge a 20-book 6,000 densely written page series; it took me years to read it (the first time).
Many series I enjoyed do not rise to the label of great art (which I define roughly: something which can be viewed multiple times with increasing pleasure and deeper understanding each time) but even then there’s something to be said for watching at least the final season in real time. (Spoiler prevention being the other great reason). The timing, the shared conversations with other fans, it gives the art a rhythm that even music lacks.
What does this have to do with games? Great long games cannot be shortened, although you can make a similar short game that may also be great. But it’s not the same experience. Duration (itself) is no sign of quality, but the subtle, drawn out drama has greater highs and lows than the binged pleasure.
That, I think, is the same for both genres.