Last weekend I finished my first play through of Mass Effect, the first installment of BioWare's epic Space Opera. It is a rare occasion that I get to complete a full-sized RPG like this, and I'm still feeling inordinately pleased about it.
When I play, I like to get immersed. I lean heavily towards games with lots of narrative elements and large storyworlds. This used to be adventure games. Still is, on the rare occasion that I can find them. More recently this also lends itself well to epic RPGs (BioWare being a favourite developer).
The problem with my desire for immersion is that I like longer play sessions. I like to sit down and get lost in a game. Play for hours, then look up after a grueling task has been completed (and the subsequent story dump has been given) and wonder where the last 5 hours have gone. This is difficult because I don't always have either the time to commit to these marathon sessions, or the mental desire to be locked into a heavy game for that long.
The casual game has had quite the effect on me. Playing browser games takes maybe 30 minutes (unless they're ridiculously long and/or hard). Episodic games, the new golden format for adventure games thanks to Telltale Games, only take a couple of hours of time and feel less like epic stories and more like episodes of television. And I love it. Only needing a few minutes to play means I can play when I only have a few minutes to spare.
But finishing these quick-pop games doesn't give me the same feeling of satisfaction that beating a huge time-sink of a game does. And I don't think they should. There has been a lot of clamoring about casual spectrum of gaming replacing the hardcore demographic. Assuming "hardcore" can be partially defined as "any game that takes a significant investment of time to play", this would require breaking down what used to be epic into bite-sized bits of play.
Which works for some things. Like for the newest Prince of Persia, which I'm playing as a palate cleanser before delving into the wasteland of DC. I'll expound more about the game as I near completion, but suffice it to say that the game could easily be played in a series of sittings each no longer than half an hour. And the game would be no less for it.
However, I think that there will always be a place for the games of such scale and scope that they defy your sense of time. Games so large that they demand immersion, despite their flaws. Games that take time and commitment to play becuase they are trying to convey a sense of time and commitment. Games that make you glow with pride when you finish them (for every story should have an end) because you have made it through the trials and bested all the challenges. Games worth playing hard.