The Ten Biggest Time Sinks

Den of Geek

We’ve all buried hours of our lives in to games. Josh picks the ten series that have consumed the most of them.

‘Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under different circumstances’ says Mark Twain, and nowhere is this clearer than in the 100+ hour game. With the possible exemption of the model train enthusiast, there are few ways people find to entertain themselves that involves the level of repetition of action that gamers put in to games that do not at least result in hand-carved desks or mile-long winter scarves to show for their toils. And yet (loathe as I am to delve in to the dark psychology behind this behaviour and risk discovering we’re all just wasting our time), instead of questioning the ‘leisure’ of such activities I instead want to salute the 10 game series that have swallowed the most collective man hours – and perhaps ask, if these franchises had never been started would someone have invented the hoverboard by now?

Call of Duty

Game life once depended on the time it took to best (or tire of) the single-player or the resource of friends you could play against. Each single-player campaign in the Call of Duty franchise lasts around 8 to 12 hours of story, yet even some of its older instalments get regular play to this day. The secret is of course online play, and showing a dedication amongst its players rivalling that of a certain MMORPG, Call of Duty is the king of the ‘just one more round’ and the addition of RPG-like upgrades and perks is the work of a true evil genius of addictive gameplay.

Final Fantasy

Representing a backlog of human endeavour for several decades, based on just the play-time of individual games Final Fantasy stands as a behemoth of extended play sessions. Whether it’s VII, X or XIII, most gamers could chew your ear off on the time spent questing, battling and restarting at least one of these games and probably have the save files and energy bills to prove it. Combining multi-stringed narratives with worthwhile skills and loot, Final Fantasy was always worth the grind and often had players so invested, even defeating the final boss wouldn’t stop their hunt for greater quarry.

Mass Effect

Taking an epic space opera RPG and linking the decisions made in it to influence the sequel instantly doubled the undertaking, prompting many newcomers to catch up on the not insubstantial first title in order to fully appreciate the second. With DLC drip-fed in a timely manner, fans have now spent more time in Shepards’ shoes than their own, and with Mass Effect 3 on the horizon it will be a long time before any of us are done with the saga.

Farmville (et. al)

Hold your objections and look at the statistics. Zynga say only 1.5% of their players pay them a penny, yet they expect to make $630 million this year. Either that 1.5% are regularly coughing up $100 (the number who have pressed the $100 credit button is apparently ‘more than zero’) or rumours that FarmVille has hit 80 million active users isn’t far off. If you log in to any of the Villes the number of your friends playing will give a fair picture of Zynga’s influence, along with the time your friends have spent amassing their earthly fortune.

World of Warcraft

Of course. Warcraft may not be a traditional ‘series’, but with regular updates and instalments it’s undeniably a different game to the one its first subscribers began. It’s also something beyond a time sink. For many it’s the most significant part of their day; or at least takes up most of it. It’s the full-time job you pay for and will be forever beyond the understanding of uninitiates. For us, it’s the sweat shop that continues to fly beneath Oxfam’s radar, but for its players it’s apparently something well worth their time and monthly subscriptions. Who are we to argue?


Pokemon is crack selling in the playground. Switching the classic RPG structure of a limited party and an epic narrative, the series has a very simple plot yet infinite potential party members to find, catch and train. Whereas in Final Fantasy grinding was necessary only so far as it allowed you to finish the ultimately finite plot, Pokemon makes the strength of your team an end in itself and forever holds the carrot out of reach, goading you to catch all 649 or wow your friends with the perfect level 100 team. Those who say they gave up on the series after Gold/Silver are still likely to have put 100 hours in to the series, and so those buying Black/White are undoubtedly approaching WoW figures.


Blizzard know how to corner a market and keep them hooked. In the case of StarCraft that corner was called Korea where it has become a national sport. It’s easy to see why; the perfectly balanced rock, scissors, paper between StarCraft’s races is so deep the fashions and tactics continued to evolve until the sequel’s release 22 years later. Besides the professionals playing 10 hours a day at 5 actions a second, the game hasn’t failed to hook Western gamers and the extent of its proliferation is perhaps underestimated next to the greater popularity of its MMO sibling.

The Sims

‘The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.’ This is the only feasible explanation for The Sims’ insane popularity last decade and the endless hours we all spent playing with Maxis’ objectiveless dollhouse. As the expansion packs piled up and sequels were launched most of us gradually came to our senses, but that doesn’t change the fact that somewhere on our hard-drives is the ghost of that perfect family, and their perfect jobs, and their perfect house, which could only possibly be improved by buying the next expansion pack.

Rock Band

Or Guitar Hero, depending on your brand loyalty. The tracklist may be populated with four-minute wonders, but that’s once you navigate the intense negotiations, arranging each band member with an acceptable instrument, advising them that ‘Hard Drums’ are just that and getting them to ‘STOP PRESSING BACK’ . These are all part of the time-consuming ritual of party play, but behind closed doors the real time is put in by those who were practising long before the second guitar was introduced. Of all the people in the world who can’t play guitar, none have spent longer playing guitar than us.


The dark horse in the race. How can this unassuming Nintendo classic be considered an insidious time thief to rival the above? Well, Zelda is the innocuous game so many of us switch on and tune out to. It doesn’t matter how much progress you make; Zelda is a remarkably organic experience where entire hours can be lost slashing grass and riding through fields. It’s no coincidence that time is a theme running throughout the series. Whether it’s in hourglasses, ocarinas or links to the past, Hyrule is a world where time stands still, and it’s only coming out of it you realise that’s sadly not true of the real one.

Which game series has stolen the most of your time? And – more importantly – would you ever want it back?

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