Culprits of A Misspent Youth

Read at Mayerson on Animation:

“If you make a half hour TV show and a million people watch it, you’ve used up 500,000 hours of human life. If you make a feature and a million people watch it, you’ve used up two million hours of human life. There are only 8,760 hours in a year, which means that your TV show burns up more than 57 years of human life and your feature burns up more than 228 years of human life for every million viewers. These amounts are not trivial. We should all ask ourselves if we are providing value for the amount of the audience’s life we are using up.”

This got me thinking about the sheer amount of time that can be spent inside a game as opposed to a film or individual television show. Doing a little rough calculation on a large-scale game like Mass Effect:

  • The last official figures, (pre-holiday season 2007), showed the game to have sold over 1.7m copies. That number has certainly increased since then, but we’ll stick with that for now in the interests of being conservative.
  • We know that only under 20% of games are ever completed, (though I’m estimating that figure might be higher based on the targetted RPG user-base over the perhaps more impatient “Halo crowd”), plus this is a game that actively promotes muliple playthroughs. Again though, in the interests of erring on the conservative we’ll just stick to 20%.
  • Depending on how the player decides to approach the game, a single playthrough can last anywhere between 5-6 hours and 30-40 hours, so let’s take an an average of roughly 10-15 hours per playthrough. (Additionally, the remaining 80% will likely have sunk a significant amount of time before hitting a wall, but we’ll leave them out for now).
  • 20% of 1,700,000 is 340,000, multiplied by 10-15 gives a total of 3.4-5.1 million hours, or at least 388-582 years of human life spent inside the game-world.

That’s a shitload of time!

Just think what these people could have been doing to further the human race – discovering cures for cancer, solving global warming etc. Of course, there’s a lot to be said for downtime and escapism. Losing yourself on an asteroid hurtling towards a human-colonised planet certainly allows you to punctuate your presumably less (than that) exciting existence, but imagine if we could infuse our unique entertainment medium with the kind of education and exploration of the human condition that has been the staple of much less time-consuming entertainment mediums since inception. We really as an industry owe it to ourselves to provide some kind of cultural value to the people who are going to be investing time in our creations so that not only can they justify the time, but us our creations.