Can we agree that fifty hours is a serious commitment for a piece of entertainment? Sure, it’s a fraction of the time it takes to master any real skill, and it’s probably a drop in the ocean of hours I’ve wasted neurotically flitting between social media apps on my phone. But time spent consuming media is defined by different parameters than how we choose to spend our days out in the real world. It’s time spent engaged with the work of another person; it’s how we learn to shift our perspectives and gain an abstracted understanding of empathy. Art, in its broadest interpretation, strips down life to highlight certain emotions, philosophies, perhaps even “truths.” As such, we subconsciously expect (or at least hope) that every moment of this craft will build toward one of these epiphanies, that the creator is assured enough to be leading toward, if not pure thematic consistency, something that constitutes “the point.”
I’m not discounting a longform work’s ability to convey message and theme, and perhaps that’s part of the reason Baldur’s Gate made me question the time I was spending on it in the first place. Again, fifty hours is not an insubstantial length of time, and plenty of bona fide masterpieces I’ve yet to touch would take up at least that. I’ve seen nary a second of The Sopranos or The Wire — the two television series that finally earned the medium true cultural respectability — in any true context. I have a beautiful box set of In Search for Lost Time — a novel that could not have my interests more piqued — on my bookshelf, untouched since I received it last Christmas. I’ve even heard of a game called Planescape: Torment — a Baldur’s Gate successor, rendered on the same engine — that supposedly has a literary ambition and authorial voice rarely seen in video games.
I think “[This] is totally worth your time, but [that] totally isn’t!” is a pretty hacky way to approach any subject in life. Not only does it totally and haughtily (and usually ignorantly!) invalidate that hobby/trade/object/etc.’s supporters, but it leads to cultural evaluation where the number of stars on a box is more important than actual, nuanced conversation about the object in question. So please don’t take it lightly when I ask, in future year 2013 and with a wealth of globe-spanning culture at my fingertips, what, exactly, am I supposed to gain from Baldur’s Gate‘s days-spanning runtime? Continue reading