In praise of ultra-short games

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Is falling in this hole going to take long? I have a meeting at 2...

Enlarge / Is falling in this hole going to take long? I have a meeting at 2…

These days, the game industry at large seems to be focused on games that can keep players playing, and paying, indefinitely. This overarching genre of “forever” games encompasses esports like Hearthstone and Overwatch, social hangouts like World of Warcraft and Fortnite, and endlessly repetitive grinds like Destiny 2 and even Candy Crush Saga. The idea in each case is to create an experience that can engage a critical mass of players for hundreds or even thousands of hours over a span of years.

There’s something to be said for these kinds of endless experiences. These days, though, I’m frequently more fascinated by games at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. This class of “lunch break” games—single-serving, single-player narrative experiences designed to be played once, in about an hour or less—will never be as big or as popular as games that can demand thousands of hours of player attention. But there’s also something to be said for a game that makes its impact quickly and lingers with the player for much, much longer.

The latest fine example of the form is Kids, a “game of crowds” that “allows you to move with and against crowds until everyone is gone,” as its Steam page puts it. I don’t really want to spoil the entirely unique experience by saying any more than that, but this 30-second trailer gives a good feeling for how the game’s smooth animation and striking, minimalist, black-and-white characters create a creepy, claustrophobic aesthetic that’s hard to shake.

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