I don't know how many New Yorkers would recognize this man, but nearly all of them would be familiar with one of his greatest works- Central Park. Frederick Law Olmsted might well have been the 19th century's greatest landscape architect. Aside from Central Park, he designed countless other parks, the grounds around the US Capital and the landscape of the World's Columbian Exposition. Without Olmsted, there's no doubt the American public park system would be fundamentally different.
Olmsted is featured prominently in Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, which I've been reading lately1. About half of the book focuses on the creation of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, from a largely architectural perspective. The other half focuses on a far darker subject, which I'm sure I'll write about before long. What does this have to do with games? Thanks to Iroquois Pliskin, I've been thinking about architecture and games a lot. And there's no reason that can't include landscape architecture.
I'm planning a broader post about Olmsted's efforts to advance recognition of landscape architecture as an art form. But as an introduction, I wanted to comment on something I've observed recently, but was made clear when reading about an essential feature of Olmsted's design philosophy. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Olmsted's works were not meant to be immediately colourful or impressive. Rather, the true design was meant to emerge naturally over a period of years, even decades. Given the reaction I've heard from others about some of the games I've been playing lately, I can't help but wonder if those games are more enjoyable for me because of how I'm playing them.
I don't mean JRPGs that are 80+ hours long, I mean playing the average ~10-20 hour game in shorter bursts over longer periods of time. Mirror's Edge was a rather ... polarizing title. I pre-ordered2 and have been playing it off and on since. Usually no more than 30-45 minutes at a time and I've been enjoying it quite a bit. Of course, the sound of meat hitting pavement and a grumbled, "Dammit Faith ..." are not uncommon. Yet I've never been frustrated to the point of wanting to stop, not even close. And I'm not usually one for unforgiving games either (e.g. Mega Man 9). But I can't help but wonder, if I had run (no pun intended) up against those issues for the course of a couple of hours, would I have enjoyed the game less overall? Do those mild annoyances aggregate over a play session?
Chris Remo noted FarCry 2 has a "slow burn" rather than being immediately impressive. I picked it up on Steam when it launched, playing it pretty intensely until Fallout 3 launched and devoured all my gaming time. After finishing one go through Fallout, I've been taking small nibbles out of FC2 much like Mirror's Edge. It compartmentalizes quite well, taking 20-30 minutes to find a mission and finish it, maybe grabbing a diamond or two along the way. Playing it in small bursts I've found to be more enjoyable than the long stretches before Fallout 3. The respawning guard posts are a non-issue and the diamond hunts are challenging instead of repetitive.
Is it just excusing flaws by saying they're less annoying if you face them for shorter periods of time? Perhaps. But it seems like there is some media that is genuinely more enjoyable if it's broken up into smaller pieces. I've noticed people having this reaction when reading Lovecraft. A few stories are fantastic, but reading a whole collection cover to cover without interleaving anything else can be exhausting.
When Olmsted designed Central Park, he did not design a space that would immediately awe and impress. He designed a park that would become increasingly breathtaking as it was visited year after year. If one were to visit the park frequently, it would seem similar. But visiting less often over a longer period of time, growth and change in the park would be striking (that was Olmsted's intent, at least). He intended a space that, even over a hundred years later, would still be a place of serenity and natural beauty in the heart of one of the world's largest cities.
Have you ever played a game slowly, in smaller bits, and ended up enjoying it more than those that powered through it? If so, what kind of game was it? Do you think it was deliberately designed this way, or just a happy accident? I'd like to hear if other people have had similar experiences and if so, what kind of games it was with.
 - Technically I've been using my iPhone to listen to the unabridged audio book from Audible at the suggestion of Pseudopod, both of which I highly recommend.
 - For the awesome Timbuk2 messenger bag. Timbuk2 bag at a discount + game? Hell yes.