Thursday, June 18, 2009

Replay Value

Lately, I have been pondering a question that I can't seem to shake -- Should we play through games multiple times, in order to fully understand the experience and points they are trying to convey?

Playing through a game once is usually enough for us to know what we think about it. Genre or what takes place during the game does not matter; we'll know whether we liked or disliked it, and we'll know whether we found it frustrating, relaxing, intense, atmospheric, compelling or any other adjectives that could be used to describe the particular game we've just finished. So why then, would we need to play through it again if we are already aware of such thoughts?

Well, we wouldn't, but in my experience I have always gained a better sense and understanding of my thoughts on a particular game with a subsequent playthrough, and it seems I'm not the only one. By playing through a game for a second or perhaps even third time, I'm allowing myself to enjoy it again, but more importantly, I'm also opening myself to potential elements, mechanics or features that I may have neglected the first time around. I may notice how the game's combat helps or hinders the overall experience, or, I may see a subtle addition to a room that adds context to the narrative or a certain character, giving me a better understanding of who or what they are.

Usually if we play a game more than once, it's because we really enjoyed the title and want to experience it again, reliving a memory or seeing a story and characters again because they resonated with us. If, however, we can discover something new in a subsequent playthrough, or appreciate the game with a fresh perspective, then how is that a bad thing? It could provide a deeper context for us to enjoy these titles, whilst also allowing us to understand what may or may not work in the intended experience. For the more critically inclined out there, myself included, I can only see this as a good thing as our analysis of a title or exploration of a particular point can be more fully-realised than before.

As an industry we spend so much time focusing on the next big thing, to the point where we either move on within a week of release or get overwhelmed with everything we can play. In doing so, we're so distracted by the current that we have no time to spend enjoying the (even recent) past. For your average title this might seem okay, but for the truly great games, the classics, surely this is a bad thing? Especially when the level of respect we have for these titles could be deeper, better defined and better understood? On second thought, subsequent playthroughs of the average and mediocre titles out there wouldn't be such a bad thing to do, either, as it would allow us to communicate why these titles are mediocre with a more informed perspective than the first (and only) playthrough would.

Don't get me wrong, I realise that playing games more than once takes away time from playing other games we may want to, or from enjoying games that we absolutely love and want to play again, but at the same time I think it's an interesting thing to consider. Would playing through games more than once allow us to justify our opinions through a deeper understanding of an intended experience? And if yes, should we then play through more than once in order to critically evaluate it properly?

If you have an answer to these questions, or something to add, then feel free to have your say via the comments. In the meantime I will be experimenting with this possibility with a game I'm playing at the moment, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and will post the results in the future.


Michelle said...

Almost certainly.

As you say gamers often feel under pressure to play the next big thing with their circle of friends the moment it's released, the build up to big release dates are a testament to this.

I guess that's why in recent years I've started to play more and more things that no one else is really playing, re-playing stuff from years ago, appreciating games I missed.

For me it's not just the time to replay games, but the breathing space you get when the social and PR pressure is taken off, you can enjoy the gaming experience much, much more.

Summer months are great for this, and that's what I am doing right now ;) Nice post, thanks.

Jorge Albor said...

Playing through games a second time is absolutely rewarding on some level; memorable moments and sensations are ingrained further and its easier to fine narrative elements you may have missed on the first play through.

Unfortunately, most of a game, when it comes down to it, is the mechanics. The vast majority of time spend playing is learning, developing skills, and testing those skills. The second play through cannot challenge you in the same way, so its hard to warrant another go when so much of your time is going to be spent repeating things that are not necessarily rewarding. Unless, of course, the mechanics are pleasurable enough. What I mean to say it, if you play through again, keep in mind pacing and difficulty are going to be off, and thus moments of exhilaration or fear may be absent where they should be, skewing your opinion of the game.

ThrawnOmega said...

I had this whole long comment worked up, and then I just decided I'd write a blog post as a response to this, so stop by some time and check it out =)

Unknown said...

@Michelle -- I'm also taking my time with the various games I am still yet to play and I'm enjoying it a lot more. Sure I might be forcing myself out of some discussion, but at least I'm not continually overwhelmed, either.

Also, you may be interested in this post: Chew Your Food. Thanks for the comment, too. It's appreciated.

@Jorge -- I can see your point and for games that use atmosphere (Silent Hill as just one example), losing it because you know what is around the corner can only be something that hinders the experience, rather than being beneficial to it. I suppose it depends on the game, or even genre; some will lose some of their entertainment value because you've already experienced it once, while others will potentially increase the value because of some of the things I mentioned in the post.

In response to your mechanics point, difficulty can be increased in a subsequent playthrough to try and maintain the challenge, though I agree that once you're accustomed to the mechanics, you're experience of the game changes. But I still wonder, would a subsequent playthrough develop our understanding of those mechanics into a deeper level, one we can then use to more effectively communicate our critiques on them/the game? As per usual, thanks for stopping by.

@Thrawn -- My first response in post form, awesome! I'll definitely check it out.

David Carlton said...

I think I almost certainly would get a lot out of replaying many games; the main reason why I don't, I think, is that they take so long. (And, frankly, have so much filler.) If I look at a book on my shelf and suddenly am struck with a need to reread it, I do; if I look at a game, and am suddenly struck with a need to replay it, I say "is this really what I want to do with 10-40 hours out of my life?", and my need goes away.

It's not a coincidence that the main game I've replayed recently is Flower; I played it three times in fairly short succession, and learned a lot every time. (Especially the second.)

Unknown said...

David, I hear you. I can't imagine what it would be like to play through Fallout 3 again after spending so long doing all the quests, exploring everywhere, playing the DLC and so on. Arguably games like that would suit the multiple playthroughs due to their different choices and types of characters you can have, but the time-sink would just be insane.

As for Flower, it's a very easy game to go back to isn't it? It's perfect for when you just want to unwind after a long day.

Thanks for stopping by and making a comment man, it's appreciated.

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