As I was sifting through my list of games that I’ve played over the course of my life, I noticed a distinct trend in some of my preferences: I often preferred longer, tournament-style games of play compared to single-game completions.
It came up at first when I noticed that I preferred the game Mafia (below) to the more shorter One-Night Werewolf game that is available on phones. Both games involve a group of people sitting or standing in a circle in which one person is the killer (or werewolf) and the goal of the game is to figure out who.
In the former:
- The group goes through multiple rounds as the killer takes out people in the group, with some members of the group tasked with being a medic or detective, and then the group has a council to determine who the killer might be.
- If the group reveals the killer in time, the group wins.
- If the killer survives all the rounds, he/she wins.
In the latter:
- There is one round. The killer chooses who to kill, the actions take place, and then the group guesses who the killer is.
- Regardless of what happens next, the game ends, although it can then be repeated with a new killer.
It always bugged me that the latter game was so short, and minimized the investigative work that can be done in the former. Also in the former, there is an element of strategy to trying to discern who’s dying each round to figure out who might be who, while the latter is basically all luck. Basically poker without any longform elements.
However, I later realized that I preferred tournament-styles of play of other types of games as well, once that have more strategic elements in one round.
Take Beer Pong (below). College-aged younglings have been playing the game for decades, but I always found it to be a bit dry and slow for my taste. However, if we’re playing Tournament Beer Pong, sign me up! Something about the buildup, the grandeur, being a team that no one expected to win potentially climbing the ladder and surprising everyone else; that potential made me want to play.
I’ve seen this pattern repeat when I play games like Heads Up or Scattergories. I always want to play as many rounds as possible, keep score, etc.
But at the same time, there are outliers for me, some instances where I prefer playing the shorter version of an experience:
The biggest of which is sports games. I’ve never once played a campaign mode in MLB The Show or NBA2k, always preferring to play singular matches than an extensive season.
Additionally, in playing Cards Against Humanity (below) or the game Spyfall, there are indeed avenues to keep score and do a kind of come-from-behind buildup that I seem to like. Yet, when I play those games, I don’t feel any need to keep score. We can of course, but I am perfectly content to just go through the rounds, do some improv, and laugh until the group I’m with decides to stop.
So it’s not a desire in me for things to be “bigger and better.” It’s something else.
After thinking about it, I think it has to do with aspects of emergent narratives (a.k.a. the stories that come out of playing these games that we don’t intend to).
In the games in which I prefer multiple rounds, a lot of them have a sort of endgame built into it.
Mafia/Werewolf is designed with the question of “who is the killer?” and answering that question provides the catharsis for the emergent, role-playing story. If that story is extremely short, the feeling of this catharsis is significantly mitigated.
It’s hard to feel like an underdog or feel like you’re playing a larger role in a single game of Beer Pong, because, hey, it’s just one game. But extend that out in a tournament, and you begin to take on an expansive identity – the underdog, the favorite, the guy that always makes the last shot, etc. – and then this becomes the story that you want to see completed in the most satisfying way possible.
Whereas in a sports video game, you’re already playing as professional players, so the identity is more or less built on. Also, kind of like a TV show that goes on for too long, playing an entire season of a sports game feels like it begins to drag, depleting the narrative. There is enough meat in an hour-long single game to satiate (at least me).
Also, I think there is an element of Comedy vs. Drama as well. Spyfall and Cards Against Humanity, especially with the right groups, are enormously hilarious games. There is indeed competition, but you start to not care about this competition as you laugh more and more, seeing your friends act out certain roles and respond to hilarious instances. In the same vein as TV comedies, having longform narratives are nice, but we are often perfectly content to have episodic experiences where we just get to laugh.
Maybe there isn’t too much to be gleamed from all of this. Maybe I just like games that are 1-3 hours long, compared to one-off 5-minute games or experiences that take days to play.
Or… maybe it begs the question of thinking about which types of games (funny vs. dramatic ones; investigative ones vs. action ones) lend themselves to being perfectly satisfying in the one-off or without structure, and which games are more powerful if time is taken to experience them through multiple rounds.