What’s the ideal session length?

This is a question that I think about perhaps too often: what is the ideal session length?

I’ve played in groups where we met for an entire day, I’ve played in groups where we met for an entire night, and I’m currently in two groups, one where we meet about once a month for about four hours each time, and another where we meet once a week for about two and a half hours.

Long sessions used to appeal to me, a lot. Especially in college, when most of my players were also my housemates, it was easy to start a game whenever and keep playing til whenever. College was a time when gaming was relatively easy to come by. In fact, I still have fond memories of how we’d often start designing cars for Car Wars around midnight, actually start playing around 2am and not get done until dawn. No drinking binges for me, but late-night gaming was free and easy.

After college, it became harder to find gaming. During the brief time I had an RPG group in Taiwan, we tended towards starting late and playing very long, but that only lasted a few months. Since college, sessions have tended to be much shorter. Since the turn of the century, I’ve been in two groups that met for longer than six hours at a stretch, but they both collapsed within a few months, partially because the sessions were too long.

Is it that people I game with are older? People’s priorities certainly change as they get older. House repairs, mowing the lawn, taking care of children, etc. were all things that we didn’t have to worry about so much during college. Schedule conflicts seem much more common now that my gaming friends are older.

But it’s not just about getting older. In addition, I think modern life has just stretched everyone thinner, regardless of age, such that none of us have as much time (or perhaps attention) for any one activity as we used to. I think that’s a big reason why boardgames are so much more popular than RPGs now: people want games that can begin and have closure, all within a few hours. Many boardgamers I know don’t even like long boardgames, which usually seems to mean anything longer than an hour!

So nowadays, gaming sessions tend to be much shorter. My weekly group meets for maybe three hours a week, and the monthly group tends to meet for about four hours each time, and that’s the vast majority of my gaming. There are exceptions, though: I go to at least a couple cons a year where it’s all about jamming as much gaming as possible into a weekend. But even there, it seems like a lot of people are trying to game as long and hard as they can in one weekend because it’s the most they’ll get all year — maybe even the only gaming they’ll get all year.

If I had my druthers, I’d probably still have those long, languid gaming sessions once a month, where we all meet in the afternoon, play until evening, take a break to have dinner, then continue playing until late in the night. I don’t know if my schedule could handle more than that, but it’d be nice.

The gaming I get now is very enjoyable, though. The sessions may take more planning and (perhaps) have less total duration per month than they used to, but the play is also more informed, more intentional and, really, more fun.

That’s all my impression of it — what about you? How often do you game now, vs. when you were younger? (Assuming you gamed when you were younger — perhaps a bad assumption?) Do you find the time is higher in quality now, if not higher in quantity? I’m curious if your experience matches mine.

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