Gamasutra ran a really great article (post?) on what makes a game. One of the key observations is that the length of games has eliminated meaningful decision making:
Story-Based Structure. Never before video games was there this idea that games get “completed”. Instead, games were played in “a match”. Now, all games are expected to have a long campaign, capped off by a credits reel. This completion-based mindset has dire effects on our friend, the Meaningful Decision.
Firstly, most story-based games are quite long, with regards to games from throughout history. While most games historically have taken between ten minutes and a couple hours to finish a match, modern video games aren’t considered “finished” in any sense of the word for twenty or more hours.
This on its own isn’t a problem, but it also means that it becomes a bit cruel and harsh to actually ever give a player a meaningful “loss” condition. So, that means all that they can do is win — therefore the meaningfulness of their decisions is destroyed. All they can do is beat the game slower or faster; it’s no longer a competition.
Interesting in that it almost turns long games into form of interactive storytelling since there’s no threat of “permadeath.” It also places an incredible amount of importance on storyline and using cinematic tricks to make players feel something. It’s an interesting design challenge: if they can’t lose, how do you make it interesting?