The Joy in Replaying Favorite Video Games

Why do we replay games? It’s one of my worst habits — though I only call it “worst” because it leaves me with less free time to play the new games coming out. Obviously, some games try to get you to replay them with extra storylines, special unlockables, new game modes. We even give that special something a name — replay value — and it’s considered a big plus when you purchase a game.

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I tend to replay games when they’re beautiful, to spend more time in that world.

However, there are some games that are so big, it’s hard to find the time or willpower to replay them. The Witcher 2 is one of my favorite video games of all time, but I’ll be honest and say that diving into that difficult combat and detailed story is so intense, once feels like enough… at least for a long while. Yet The Witcher 2 is set up for people to play twice, because there are two very distinct paths you can take after a key decision. It’s like you play two-thirds of the game in one go, and then have to go back for that other third when you replay the game. I loved that when I first bought the game, but I ended up just watching playthroughs on YouTube to get a feel for the other path because who has time to replay such a long, intense game?

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DmC is another game I’ve been wanting to replay…

But as soon as I say that — who has the time? — I can think of several other games I replay over and over again for no real reason other than how much I love them. For me, it’s all about the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. I’m constantly in the midst of a playthrough of each of those, which I pick up and put down whenever I get the urge. I’ll play intensely for a couple of weeks and then leave it, sometimes for months, while I play other things. When I get that itch to kill darkspawn or hang with my Normandy crew again, I pick those games back up. And because I’ve played them so much, I know exactly where I left off. I have the stories memorized. There’s not a lot of novelty there, other than some missed conversations and alternative dialogue options — nothing major, really. But that makes the games easier to pick up and play after long absences, which only feeds that addiction to replay them.

Other games aren’t known for their replay value, yet I still find myself going back to them. The big game for me last year was BioShock Infinite, and I feel like I keep bringing it up here and on my blog and on Twitter even though most people were satisfied to play it, get to that wild ending, and put it down forever. I just bought the strategy guide for it. I completed a whirlwind second playthrough of the game right before Christmas, in just a few days’ time, and I’m ready to jump back in and 100% it ASAP.

Why do I want to replay a game like BioShock Infinite? Unlike The Witcher 2 and Mass Effect, it doesn’t have alternative storylines or any dialogue options. You don’t reenter the game choosing a new character class. There are no options. No surprises. You simply launch the game, play through Booker’s adventure, get to that ending — the one that has such impact the first time you play — and set it down. It doesn’t make sense to play it again.

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BioShock Infinite

But I was drawn to the beauty of its world. I wanted to spend more time in Columbia, as messed up a place as it was. I was also attracted by the game’s combat — something most people didn’t like. I already wrote about some of things I enjoyed about the game’s combat on my blog here; it boils down to loving the weapons and vigors enough to enjoy what would otherwise be lacklustre FPS action. And the fact that BioShock Infinite only takes about 10 hours to play through makes it even more appealing to replay, because at least I can justify that I’m not wasting too much time on it.

In the end, that’s what playing games really comes down to: time. I’m always saying, “Just five more minutes,” in the midst of an intense shootout before bedtime. Last weekend, I felt awful because I had to retry a Fire Emblem: Awakening battle several times to get through it — an activity that took me almost two hours… after I’d promised my sister I’d make her breakfast “in 20 minutes, after this battle.” I get excited to hear that an RPG takes 20 hours or 40 hours or 100 hours to complete — and then I have trouble finding that time as more and more new games pile up on store shelves. It’s easy to rewatch your favorite films for two hours or listen to your favorite albums over and over while you drive, while you commute, while you walk to the coffee shop, while you work out… but video games require a hefty time investment that’s unique in the world of entertainment.

This year, I have a New Year’s Resolution to finish one game a month. But I know I’ll be playing more than that at a time. I can’t help myself. There’s a part of me that would like to say I’ll break the habit of replaying video games, but I know that will never happen. The act of replaying a game is a statement about how much you enjoy it: You can’t get enough of it. You have to reenter that world, relive that scenario, remake that decision to take a different road. When video games are that compelling, they’re doing something very right. Going back to those favorites takes me back to a feeling of unadulterated fun that is really what video games are all about.

— Ashley

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14 thoughts on “The Joy in Replaying Favorite Video Games”

  1. A great post that provoked me into thinking about games that I have replayed myself over the years. One of the games I’ve replayed the most is The World Ends With You. I first played it on my NDS and fell in love with the game’s art, music and fighting system. I forgot about it for a while until they released a HD remix version for the iPad and I found myself hooked again!

      1. I definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a fun beat-em-up with a decent story and a lot of flexibility in equipment and skills. 😀

  2. My problem is more of wanting to replay games, but not finding the time. Usually I want to move onto the next game but I also keep thinking about how there’s so many other stories, classes, or paths I haven’t taken in games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age. Probably more Dragon Age: Origins because I haven’t tried out all the origin stories of the other classes. It’s a huge dilemma when you want all the time to experience everything there is to a game!

    I also agree that playing a game is a huge time investment compared to rewatching your favorite movie or reading your favorite book again. Those would take up less time than playing a video game.

    1. That’s so true. Actually, it’s funny you mention books, because I don’t reread my favorite books very much either — that one is too big a time investment for me personally. I’m more apt to pick up (and finish) and old video game a second time than a book.

      But yeah… I think the consensus is we need loads more hours in the day. Just for everything. =)

  3. My real addiction to Mass Effect and Dragon Age is the characters rather than wanting to play another story path (because I invariably make the same choices – I can’t play renegade, I just can’t!). After a while I MISS them! Like they are my friends, and I just want to hang out with them again.

    If a game is difficult or intense, like you say, I am less likely to go back.. because it would have been an ordeal for me to get through the first time and I’d already know the next bit of story so the reward would be far less! And games like Skyrim (because it is gorgeous), I think about replaying.. but you have to put so much time and effort into it to getting your character off the ground, I usually get bored at that part and give up before I get to the “good parts” again.

    1. I get like that too sometimes — wanting to replay games with the same choices! I have forced myself to play Mass Effect as a Paragon, and I’ve tried playing as a dude, etc…. but I am always sooo tempted to play it all like I did the first time, with my canon Renegade-y FemShep. So I know what you mean about getting attached to the characters. When you replay that way, it’s just like reliving your favorite story all over again, which is cool.

      I agree that games that are really difficult are not as appetizing for replaying. In fact, sometimes I replay games on easy modes just to relive the stories more quickly… although other times, I crank up the difficulty on my second or third playthrough for a new challenge. It just depends.

  4. We’re really opposites then, because I rarely replay a game.

    The exceptions are usually the more open-ended, sandbox games. Skyrim, for example, I played three times in a row, but each experience was completely different because I approached the world as an entirely new character each time.

    Bioshock Infinite was certainly a great game, but I understood the narrative the entire way through and didn’t need clarity. The game didn’t have memorable characters (at least not in a more literary sense where I want to explore and interact with them more and more). The gameplay would be especially problematic for a replay since I thought it was absolute junk.

    Yet, this mentality does cause me issues. Even games I’d love to replay, I often don’t. While others can play and play again, hiking up difficulty and mastering the experience, the mere idea of doing that puts me to sleep. I want new content and a brand new experience, not a retread of old ones.

    So I applaud your ability!

    1. Oh that’s so interesting. I like new games but I find that on my first playthroughs, I’m sort of tense because I’m learning everything and not sure what comes next. That’s part of the fun, I know… but I actually enjoy relaxing into games toward the end of them or on my second playthroughs! I almost always notice little things that I missed the first time, too.

  5. I don’t reply games in general, but I have played KOTOR at least 5 or 6 times. Sometimes on the replays I don’t do side quests, so that quickens it, but still, that’s a lot of hours on one game!

    1. Ohhhh I still haven’t finished KOTOR! That is a long game… but I can see why you go back to it, it’s so much fun. It’s so cool when games have such large worlds to explore and side quests to do. I’m not a completionist about games, so on my first playthroughs, I only do side quests that seem interesting… but am usually more excited to see how the main story progresses. Then, if I love a game, I’ll go back and do all the side quests!

  6. I haven’t replayed an old game in a long time, but not because I don’t want to! It’s like you said, it all comes down to time. There are always so many new AAA and indie titles that I want to play that I don’t find myself returning to stuff that I’ve already played – although there are those exceptions, like many of the BioWare games. I can see myself replaying Dragon Age: Origins in the future to experience those other storylines! Unless I get too wrapped up in the newest game of course… Somehow it’s always comforting knowing that I can return to my favourite games as and when I feel like it though, even if though I often don’t. Even though there’s not much novelty in another playthrough, it’s like meeting an old friends again!

    1. That’s true, those second playthroughs have a different vibe — it’s more comforting, relaxing, and nostalgic! I love that about replaying my favorites. BioWare games are definitely some of the best for replaying, I think, and it’s only partly because of the different paths and choices you can make. It’s also about how realistic the worlds feel and how fun it is to spend time there.

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