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.
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?
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.
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.