With any media comes a multitude of choices. What should I watch? Play? Read? And how long should I spend doing it? I personally find video games with elaborate, thematic narratives more compelling – but these necessitate more time, requiring me to be more selective.
It’s hard keeping up with new video game releases. An expensive hobby in both money, and time. As far as media goes, video games take a serious time investment. A movie requires 2 hours, an album perhaps 45 minutes. A lot of role playing games (RPGs) demand dozens of hours, whereas skill-based games aren’t even necessarily consumption oriented – you can spend thousands of hours and still find areas for improvement. If we want to keep up to date with the hype, or become very good at a game, we need to invest a serious amount of time.
This brings up a concept that I like to call breadth vs depth. It’s an issue that has come up for me repeatedly. When I was younger I would listen to album after album after album. Through this process I listened to a buttload of music, and my breadth of music knowledge increased dramatically. However, with this process of mass consumption, I completely ignored the depth of each individual album. I would occasionally read along with the lyrics of some songs, but I didn’t invest myself into those albums.
When it comes to books, I’m on the other end of the spectrum. As a slow reader, I spend a lot of time with a book. Larger books often take months. Conversely, with more depth and time spent, comes less breadth of books read.
To become an expert in something, or to really understand an art you need to spend a lot of time with it. The musician who doesn’t listen to much music, or the director who doesn’t watch many movies will never excel. The Martin Scorcesees, Dave Grohls, and scientists like Oliver Sacks, must invest time into their craft. You need to devour your medium to fully understand it.
This can make choosing games difficult. I’ve given up trying to keep up to date with big blockbuster games. So many RPGs require you to delve into their universes. Recently, I’ve been playing the original Bioshock again, in anticipation of the day I’ll have enough money to buy the recently released Bioshock: Infinite. Essentially, the first Bioshock is an argument against Ayn Rand’s ‘Objectivism’ – moral, rational self-interest over all else – exploring the concept of a society governed by those values. What’s interesting about the game is the way it incorporates – and fails to incorporate – gameplay into its thematic message, with Bioshock ultimately failing in it’s aims to allow the player personal freedom in exploring self interested objectivism within the game. Clint Hocking, Valve employee and former Creative Director of EA, described the failure to connect the narrative message and gameplay message as “Ludonarrative Dissonance”.
Replaying Bioshock is an easier alternative than picking up something new. I don’t need to cognitively invest as heavily in the world creation. But because of this, I can invest more time in other media.
Most of us don’t want to choose one medium. We want to read good books, play good video games, listen to good music – and lots of it. The process that is needed is the fine tuning and balancing of breadth and depth. To be a renaissance man is to succeed in pushing the boundaries of depth and breadth.