As a freshman in high school, I read Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. It was the most difficult piece of literature I’d ever read, I was proud that I’d finished it, and it got me into historical fiction for some time.
I found out recently that I’d read the abridged version (the “real” version is twice as long). At some point, someone must have figured out that although a classic, The Count of Monte Cristo is too long for many people to get through—that it could reach more people if it were shorter and more accessible, and that if someone loved the shorter version, they could always go back to the original and enjoy it more thoroughly the second time through.
Video games could learn a lot from that. Although we tend to categorize the medium as centered around repetition (doing missions in Destiny several times over to get better loot, for example) when it comes to going back through story-based games, you’ll often hit a few snags; don’t have your save file from several years ago? Good luck finding your favorite part of Mass Effect 2 on Youtube. We get dozens of re-releases of some of the most revered games in history every year, and most of them have these same issues.
Imagine having abridged versions of your favorite games, which would let you to hop from one part of a game to another and let you skip parts you don’t want to go through for the umpteenth time (or at all). They would make it easier for fans to relive their memories or show off games to anyone who might be interested in them, and help develop the discussions we have about games. They could even make games better in the future. All we’d have to do is cut out the chaff.
NOT QUITE TOTAL RECALL
I remember The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess fondly, and the recent Wii U release of the game got me thinking about playing it to see if it’s held up. But then I remembered it’s also at least 40 hours long and filled with a ton of stuff I’d rather not have to do again.
The same goes for some of my other favorites, like Final Fantasy X and Red Dead Redemption. I’ve considered going back to them several times, but the thought of doing the tutorials again or the busywork of managing inventories and party members always stops me. Whenever I do go back to them, I usually stop a few hours in. When I’m trying to relive my memories of my favorite games, I tend to just want the highlights.
Some remasters have messed around with editing content. The recent PS4 release of Final Fantasy VII, a 19-year-old game, lets you cut out most of its random monster encounters and play the game on fast-forward. Some games, like the Uncharted series, offer the chance to go back and replay chapters from the beginning, but only after you’ve beaten those chapters. If you ever want to go back to them, you’d better hope you kept your saves around.
Abridged games could also help newcomers fall in love with games they missed the first time around. I can tell my friends Final Fantasy X is the best game in the series and the one they should start with, but few of them would be able to fit into their free time, especially when newer games keep tempting them. And showing them clips of cutscenes and boss fights won’t instill the same feelings you get from actually playing it.
Abridged games would let them to see what all the fuss was about back in the day without having to take so long to find out. If they love the game, they can go back and play through the whole thing, grinding and all, later on. If they don’t love the game? Well, they can return it or delete from their library without having wasted too much time.
And games might be the hardest medium to sift through academically. Want to cite a specific moment or part of a game for a paper you’re writing? The closest you can get besides citing the whole game is a Youtube video, and those are crapshoots. Abridged games would allow students to discuss games in-depth more easily, which could prove a boon to future generations of developers.
It would also make teaching video games a lot easier. Imagine you teach a class on game design and want to create a list of game for your students to play. You can’t expect students to play every Final Fantasy game in a single semester. Your only options as of now are to only assign very short games, have people play up to certain point in a game, or resort to Youtube, which doesn’t have the same impact as actually playing the game.
Abridged versions of games would let professors and teachers assign all kinds of games to their students, not just short ones, which will hopefully those students better dissect their favorites and create better games in years (or months) later.
NOT THAT EASY
Abridged games would make things easier for both academics and the average person but there are a few issues to deal with.
Developers would have to admit not every part of their game is essential, and most of them already cut out lots of content from their games. You can also make the case in some games, the length of time you spend with them is important to their effect. Others rely on the long-term growth of characters for their systems to truly pay off; part of the fun of having a full team of ridiculously strong party members comes from the time investment it took you to train them. Letting you hop around wherever you want might detract from that.
This is why I think abridged versions would work best as part of a re-release, where the distance of time can help make for better cuts. In the case of books, new companies and publishers sometimes handle the abridging. Some companies, like Digital Eclipse (responsible for the recent Mega Man Legacy Collection) have started doing something like this.
I don’t think getting the abridged games I’d want to play will happen anytime soon. Segmenting games the way abridged versions would require without sacrificing what makes them special would take some real work. But if we want to open games up to more people—whether they’re veterans looking to relive their memories, newcomers trying to connect with classics, or academics trying to learn and teach game design—we need games to be more accessible.
Suriel Vazquez is a freelance writer who keeps staring at the Steam Page for Final Fantasy X despite knowing he’ll probably never have the time for it. He’s written for Playboy, ZAM, Paste, and many others. You can follow him @SurielVazquez.
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