Fast or Slow? The Importance of Video Game Pacing

Life is Strange Slow Pace

There’s a moment in Life is Strange that reminded me strongly of my own time as a teenager. Not the intense teen drama or the time traveling, but rather one of the spaces in between. The early morning haze, a best friend’s bed, the quiet strains of “Bright Eyes” in the air—maybe this sounds cheesy, but when I played through that scene, I had to let the whole song finish before moving on. Though I had the option to interrupt it at any time, I couldn’t bring myself to end that quiet moment prematurely—I loved it too much.

Fast-paced action may be exhilarating, but there’s something to be said for a more introspective, quiet gaming experience, too. A faster pace lets you experience the thrill of being an action movie star, while a slower pace is typically more about embodying a character or exploring a particular story. Different pacing affects the tone, with each style representing a unique take on video game storytelling.

Slow, Contemplative Video Game Pacing Encourages Introspection

Virtual reality is the gaming technology of the future. While we might associate visions of the future with space battles and dystopias, virtual reality also has the power to capture the subtleties of the human condition in a way few games have before.

Emotional Investment with Alice in Loading Human
Interacting with characters and exploring relationships is the key to appreciating Loading Human‘s intentional slow pace.

For every fast-paced EVE: Valkyrie, there’s a Loading Human. This game focuses on the unique storytelling power of virtual reality, demonstrating how emotional interactions can drive a narrative in VR. You play as Prometheus, a newly-trained astronaut tasked with finding a powerful energy source to save his aging father. While that could easily have been the setup for an action thriller, Loading Human takes a different approach by focusing on the ways that Prometheus, his father, and others interact. It’s not about showing how exciting rockets or scientific advancements can be, but rather how those things can shape our relationships and our humanity.

Loading Human’s deliberate pace forces players to slow down and consider their surroundings and choices. While there are moments of excitement, they’re followed by the important interactions with the characters that make up the story. As a result, the more classic action scenes feel even more exciting, while the slower moments are driven by introspection and character development.

Go Fast or Slow With Player-Controlled Pacing

While it’s tempting to separate games into purely slow or fast-paced, there’s a middle ground, too. Many games give you all the pieces of narrative you need but never force you to follow them, meaning the pace is exactly what you make of it. Want a fast adventure? You can do that, or you can take your time exploring sidequests, scenery, and all the other things a game has to offer.

Fallout 4 Nick Valentine
Fallout 4 leaves the pacing up to you, offering both a huge world to explore and a main quest to follow. Image Source: Videogame Photography via Flickr.

This is exactly what the Fallout series does. You’re presented with a clear narrative direction—in Fallout 4, for example, you want to find your son—but the way you get there is entirely up to you. In part, this is because the series is open world and you have access to the entire map from the beginning, but it’s more than that. You’re not shoehorned into completing the main story, and can instead choose to play in whatever manner you like, even if that means avoiding the main quest entirely and exploring the wasteland at your leisure. If you like the slower, more character-focused journey, you can create that experience by spending time getting to know each unique NPC and their personal story—or, you can head right for the action-oriented questlines. It’s up to you.

Action and Adventure Drive Fast-Paced Stories

Fast-paced storylines thrive on adrenaline and thrills to entrance players. That doesn’t mean they can’t be meaningful, however—in fact, a story that draws people who like both action and character, like 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, is a powerful thing—but action-packed narratives focus on excitement and power, rather than introspection and discovery.

Saints Row 4 Aliens
Saints Row 4 embraces absurdity with its breakneck pace and bizarre storylines. Image Source: Deep Silver.

Saints Row thrives on this style. In Saints Row 4, you play as a superpowered president of the United States trying to stop an incoming alien invasion. Thankfully, the game doesn’t take itself seriously, hamming it up with cheesy homages to Armageddon and numerous other silly moments throughout the game. It’s entirely driven by action, which makes it invigorating to play, even if it’s not particularly deep.

It’s a completely different animal from something like Loading Human. It prioritizes the adrenaline rush of playing a character who is uniquely powerful by offering up an action-packed story that lets you flex that power at every opportunity. Each wild event tops the last, keeping you on a steady incline of exciting events for one breathtaking gameplay experience.

Fast or Slow, Video Game Pacing Strikes a Chord

Pacing is as important to a game as any other feature. While it might seem like action is better suited for interactive media, that’s not always the case. Games have incredible potential to tell all kinds of stories, ranging from the quiet and introspective to the action-packed and adrenaline-pumping, with each style appealing to different players and attracting different audiences.

Some people will get no enjoyment from Life is Strange’s quiet “Bright Eyes” scene. Others will find it a powerful moment of storytelling in a game that’s fraught with tension and drama. It’s all up to the individual—pacing is a tool to be used in a myriad of ways, whether it’s encouraging you to blast aliens with superpowers to the tune of “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” or just lounging with a friend while listening to “Lua.”

Loading Human showcases the power of interactive storytelling in beautiful virtual reality. Order your PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, or HTC Vive copy today!


Lead image source: Videogame Photography via Flickr.


Michelle Peniche

Pokemon catcher, coffee lover, part time road tripper.

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