Handheld games: Making meals out of appetizers

February 13, 2015


It’s been a busy few months for me. My theatrical production of “People” at Langham Court Theatre wrapped up, after a three-month rehearsal process and a three-week run. I’ve created Video Game Music Bingo, an event set to debut at Victoria’s biggest gaming convention, Gottacon. The holidays. Family. Work. My hobbies seem to volunteer for me instead of the other way around. Life doesn’t slow down, it only gets busier as I feel myself getting slower.

With assignments and activities piling on, I have significantly less time for games. That in itself isn’t a problem; we all go through ebbs and flows with our free time throughout the year. It didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, but when a castmate offered to lend me Final Fantasy III for the DS, I thought I’d dust off my handheld and give it a try. It would kill time, while I wait for my cue to head upstairs and tread the boards. I’ve never been a big supporter of handheld games and this experience confirmed it. When I play games, I want an entrée, not an appetizer.

It just didn’t appeal to me. I’ll eventually beat Final Fantasy III, sure, but it will be at a time when I’m away from my computer or television for extended periods of time. I just don’t find the same appeal playing on handhelds as I do on a console or PC.


As mentioned in my piece about my own personal process, I like to engross myself in the experience. I sit close because I want to transport myself into games, not wiggle on the couch, trying to find the best angle on a handheld while hoping my arms don’t get tired. But, I must remind myself, I shouldn’t think one type of experience is better than the other. Not all console or PC games are better than all handheld ones. Specific circumstances have to come into play.

An abundance of free time doesn’t always present itself. As a child, it seems to come in endless droves, until you’re begging for something to happen since you’re so dreadfully bored. But with adulthood comes endless responsibility and dwindling energy. Suddenly those massive JRPGs you whip through in a few weeks take months to complete. You just haven’t gotten a lot of time lately to play it, I understand.

That’s where the appetizers come in. I can play a handheld at lunch, or play a quick round of Jetpack Joyride while I’m in line at the bank. The mobile gaming industry is still on a massive tear, and I would be foolish to deny the very high quality titles available (Sword & Sworcery comes to mind). When I don’t have the hours, when I only have the minutes, developers have given me the opportunity to sink my teeth into something small, quick and tasty. How could I possibly hold any disdain for this? Perhaps because it reminds me I don’t have as much time as I want to play the games I truly yearn for. The scale of the appetizers certainly can’t match that of their bigger, home versions. Perhaps it’s a pricing perception; I know smaller games tend to cost less, therefore I should expect less (not true, but again, perception).


Even games made for consoles and PC are developed with time constraints in mind. Auto-saves are common with nearly every game. Even if you can only play for five or ten minutes, a game will have your data backed up. Thanks for stopping by, we hope to see you again! It’s not uncommon to see single-player adventures having very clear boundaries drawn up for checkpoints and chapter breaks in the story. Very few times will a game be unrelenting in its challenges for more than an hour, before giving you a chance to rest or save.

This is smart design; it doesn’t stop hardcore players from going the distance, but it also allows those who only have time for an appetizer get a taste of the entrée without feeling too much constraint.

When it comes down to it, I relish my free time because it leaves me opportunity to play. I don’t play them to kill time. If anything, I’d like to revive time and keep it on life support so I can keep going. The smaller, mobile games’ purpose, for me, is to pass the time without getting too bored.


I know that it’s not what a game is, but how it’s done, but when I look back at my most powerful memories in gaming, how could they possibly have had the same impact if the screen was tiny and I’m standing up against a wall somewhere? Running through Mechonis Field in Xenoblade, telling Clementine to keep her hair short in Walking Dead, watching the stars fly by at impossible speeds in the Normandy in Mass Effect and moving the camera and understanding the size of the first colossi in Shadow of the Colossus.

These entrée sized emotions were meant to be served on a plate fit for a king. Details, animations, landscapes are all parts of a painting I need to take in as a whole, rather than bite-sized portions.  It could also mean I haven’t found an incredible experience on a mobile device, something I’m more than willing to try.  With the 3DS and Vita hitting their stride, it’s nearly impossible to resist some delicious-looking appetizers and hopefully experience memories rivaling any entrée.