If one’s good, two’s probably great. That’s the general idea of more is better and a particularly notable line from The Social Network. But that doesn’t really work past a certain point, as our current shared existence in this late-stage capitalism hellscape makes all too clear. Too much of a good thing isn’t always great, and that translates beyond the inane idea of endless growth in the tech industry.
I’ve been playing a lot of Fallout 4 lately, and in between wondering if it’s a good game (I don’t know if it is, but I’m having fun so that’s okay) I keep getting distracted by the sheer volume of stuff to do in the game. It’s typical of open-world games, and half the fun of them (even if it means I lose whatever narrative thread the game is trying to tease out). Every now and then, though, I’ll be struck by a great beat in the game, be it a narrative turn (exploring Kellog’s mind!) or the sight of something beautiful over the horizon (seeing Boston across the river and an airship above it). But then it’s right back to exploring every nook and cranny and perusing the smorgasbord of side quests.
Through it, part of me wonders how the game would play differently if there weren’t so much stuff in it and what was in it was done better. Not that it’s done poorly, but when you have so much in a game there’s less space for stuff that’s been lovingly crafted for more of those really cool moments. I can’t help but to compare it to Horizon games I love, where even though the worlds are huge, there are fewer quests and dungeons and so what’s there feels very deliberate and not just to take up space. (There’s also some narrative at play in Horizon, where the side quests and other activities feel much more connected to the central narrative than most other open-world games I’ve played, but that’s another thing.) I enjoy a huge map as much as the next person (hello mediative Death Stranding), but I also really like it when what’s in it really’s meant to be there.
It’s similar to how I feel about the latest season of Stranger Things. Each episode in the fourth season clocks in at well over an hour long — which they can do, because this is Netflix and the rules of broadcast television don’t apply (only the desire for Endless Growth®). While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (hey, sometimes you’ve a lot of stuff to get through!), Stranger Things spends a lot of its runtime spinning wheels. It’s not necessarily the show’s fault; there are a lot of characters in a lot of different places who have to get to other places so that they can all be in the right place at the right time when the climax hits. It’s how the story’s built so it makes sense. But maybe if there were more constraints on the show — like if each episode had to come in under an hour like in the first season — maybe the plot would have been wrangled differently so it’d spend more time firing on all cylinders and less time in the doldrums. Because when Stranger Things is going it goes, and, I guess like Fallout, I want more of it being excellent and less bits that feel like filler.
This, of course, is definitely not a rule. Spider-Man: No Way Home absolutely earns its two-and-a-half-hour runtime and Breath of The Wild is a massive, wonderful map that I love poring over. I suppose it’s more a sense that something’s gotta make the space it’s taking up worth it. A ninety-minute movie can feel like a slog just as a short linear game can feel like a repetitive chore. So really, all it comes down to is if something’s gonna be done done, it oughta be done well.
Which, 660 words later, seems pretty obvious.