Entertainment Formats and ” ‘Jumping In’ Time” – A Ramble

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I originally wrote this article a couple of days after Christmas last year, when I found myself in the wonderful (but paradoxically annoying) situation of having several different types of entertainment on the go at the same time.

At the time of writing, I’m still in the middle of a computer game called “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” (which I will review sometime in the future), I’m watching season four of “Game Of Thrones” on DVD and I’m also reading a novel called “Brighton Belle” by Sara Sheridan.

So, with things in three different mediums, it’s hard not to make comparisons. And, for today, I’ll be looking at what I call ” ‘jumping in’ time”. No, this doesn’t refer to time gaps in stories. It refers to the amount of time it takes to start or continue enjoying something, and how much control the audience has over this.

The novel I’m reading at the moment has a really short ‘jumping in’ time. It’s currently sitting within arms’ reach of my computer desk and, if I feel like spending five minutes reading it, I can just pick it up and carry on reading. If I feel like spending half an hour or more reading it, I can also do this without really thinking about it too much.

It’s written in a way which is descriptive enough to make the novel immersive, but functional enough to ensure that the story keeps moving. It isn’t the kind of ‘slow’ novel that can take literally weeks to read, but it isn’t the kind of fast-paced thriller novel that pretty much demands that you read the whole thing in one 3-6 hour sitting. This balance between these two extremes means that it’s the kind of book that you can easily pick up at will and just read for as long as you want to.

Plus, unlike a lot of modern novels, it’s only a slender 243 pages in length. This shorter length also invites the reader to ‘jump in’ to the story by suggesting that it won’t take too long to enjoy the story.

It’s also part of a longer series (I got the first three books for Christmas), where every novel in the series is completely self-contained. In fact, I accidentally started reading the third book (“England Expects”) for about 10-20 pages before I even realised that it was a later part of the series, and switched to the first book instead.

Best of all, since it’s a paperback book, the “system requirements” aren’t that high. As long as your eyesight is good enough and you are literate, then you can enjoy it. “Brighton Belle” was first published in 2012 and it requires exactly the same ‘hardware’ to read as a book from 1992 or 1952 does. Now, compare this to a high-budget modern computer game or one of those online-only TV series that are all the rage these days, and you’ll see why it has a massive advantage in terms of being accessible to audiences.

On the other hand, the “Game Of Thrones” season four DVD boxset I got for Christmas has something of a longer ‘jumping in’ time. Not only do you have to know all of the backstory and the characters (which I do already), but the box is one of those elaborate boxes where you have to remove a cardboard sleeve, then remove a box from inside another box and then unfold a concertina before you can even get to the discs.

In addition to this, you obviously have to watch the series in almost one hour increments. Whilst this allows for easier time-planning than, say, a two-hour film – it still means that you have to set aside about an hour or more to watch it. It isn’t something that you can enjoy for five minutes, twenty minutes or one and a half hours. You can only enjoy it in strict one-hour increments.

Now, compare this to the average Youtube video. Although “Game Of Thrones” might have much better production values, a compelling story etc… the average Youtube video is only about 3-10 minutes long. They’re the kind of thing that you don’t have to put much thought into watching. They have a very short ‘jumping in’ time. Even though I really love “Game Of Thrones”, I probably spent much more time watching Youtube videos in the days after Christmas.

On the other hand, “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” has an even longer ‘jumping in’ time than all of these things. Whilst it is well-made enough to run on even fairly old computers (like mine), you have to download more than a gigabyte of data once you buy it, which can take a while. Likewise, there’s also a small 20mb patch that takes almost as long to install as the actual game does.

Although it’s really fun, it’s also a very slow-paced game. Not only are there long loading times (although this might be an old computer thing) when you start playing, but the game’s combat system is designed to be more of a slow and strategic chess-like thing.

Combine this with the fact that it will only allow you to save your progress at seemingly random points in the game and the fact that the story, characters, game world etc… are really compelling, and it’s the kind of thing where you have to set aside at least 1-2 hours whenever you want to play it.

Now, compare this to another game like “Doom II” (or, rather, fan-made levels for it). Since this game is extremely old, it loads almost instantly. The gameplay is designed to be fast, responsive and intense. It also allows you to save your game wherever you want. It’s the kind of game which you can literally play for five minutes, or an hour or whatever.

Although it would be the gravest of heresies to call “Doom II” a ‘casual’ game, it is a game with a ridiculously short ‘jumping in’ time. And, as such, my decision to play it is usually a lot quicker than it is when I decide whether or not to play some more “Shadowrun: Dragonfall”. Even if both things are extremely fun.

So, what was the point of all of this? Well, the shorter the ‘jumping in’ time for your story/comic/film/game etc…, then the more likely your audience are to return to it regularly. If your audience has a high degree of choice over the amount of time they spend with something, then they’re going to spend more time with it.

Yes, things with a longer ‘jumping in’ time can still be great, but this can also mean that the audience is more reluctant to enjoy them on a more regular basis.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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