Duration and Viewer Experience

Suzanne Mooney スザンヌ・ムーニー

How long do you spend looking at a work of art, watching a movie, or playing a computer game? I actively avoid art museums and galleries on weekends and holidays, as I cannot abide the ordered shuffle from artwork to artwork, giving almost equal time to each work on display. Generally, at art exhibitions I find myself drawn in or disinterested in extreme degrees. The pressure from the group, social and even physical, as bodies move in apparent automation, take me out of the viewing experience and leave me focused far more on the spectacle that is the viewing public, a chimera viewer. Unlike with other entertainment media, there is no obvious beginning and end to the viewing time. I find myself wondering how the appropriate amount of time might have been decided upon collectively, and likely without any conscious thought. So many of our entertainment viewing experiences are of a fixed duration. We know how long to watch a movie―from the beginning to the end. But over time, through the development of technology and shifts in culture, our expectations of durational experiences in other media are changing too.

The medium more often than not dictates our expectations and experience of duration. Before cinema, the dioramas of Daguerre and Bouton were a viewing spectacle of just 10 to 15 minutes in length. Movies, in the early days of feature films, had their length decided by the physical length of the film reel, with multi-reel films following soon after. Television and radio shows, although often serial, are generally easy to make time for, being typically shorter than feature films, shrinking a little as advertisements appear in greater frequency. Soap operas, some with more than 10, 000 aired episodes, have enthralled audiences for decades, drawing the viewer towards the spectacle of the mundanity or otherness of life, interjected with love and loss. The box set has transcended its namesake format, morphing into subscription-based on demand video providers like Netflix. No longer does the consumer readily enter into an unstated agreement to wait a week at a time to watch the next episode in a television series. Binge watching and series extended into double digits are the new norm, and with this our expectations for viewing duration are adapting. We want more. The film industry is packed to the brim with sequels, prequels, re-boots and interconnected cross-platform storylines. Take the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a prime example, beginning with the Iron Man film (2008), the franchise combines not only 19 feature films, but also 10 additional television series such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Jessica Jones taking the total running time to 9 days 17 hours and 29 minutes.*1 The latest release, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) features a colossal 76 characters, each having their own back-stories and build-up over the course of a decade of viewing, and relies on the viewers’ knowledge gained over this time. This is what we expect, and our expectations for viewing and duration continue to change as we engage with entertainment.

In the global computer games industry, set to break the 100 billion dollar mark before 2020, we can find the long-duration, extended viewer-experience taking form. In our media entertainment, despite being interactive in nature, computer games also have pre-determined playtime. 15 hours is typical for a game narrative to unfold, but this length is extended depending on time spent in additional tangential storylines, activities or exploration. Even open-world games tend to have narratives of fixed duration to some degree. Recently, in a select number of games, the narrative has become central with gameplay featuring in support of the narrative. The game God of War (2018) is a 25-hour one-shot sequence that takes the player on a journey, the main chratcer interacting with his son throughout. Senua’s Sacrifice (2017) with just 7 to 8 hours of gameplay is unusually short, shifting the experience even further in the direction of film, or perhaps the box set. Both place emphasis on the framing of scenes, lighting, character development and story-telling, taking the game experience very much into the realm of the cinematic experience. And is this not what we expect, as consumers?

Extended experience comes in many forms―viewing time, 3D cinema, IMAX, V.R., 360-degree video―and controlling the pace of the narrative, the view in real-time and even the fate of characters along the way is another extension of the cinematic experience. As the computer game veers ever closer to cinema, and technological developments in display systems open up new possibilities for viewer-controlled cinema (e.g. through the use of 360-degree video) it may be only a matter of time before the film and computer games industries eventually begin to merge as we, the viewer/player/consumer seek more and more control over the duration and depth of our entertainment experiences.

*1 A detailed list was of viewing order and time was compiled by a Reddit user and shared thought a Marvel Studios subreddit. http://goo.gl/UHxHwA
Found through How Long Is The Entire Marvel Cinematic Universe? by Cameron Bonomolo.