What’s in a Game
“Going Back Again”
There’s certainly a lot of time to think these days, what with the game release schedule this time of the year being comparable to a never ending desert littered with the occasional corpses of would be titles like “Dark” being scattered about the desolate sands -oh you want be to play the role of the douchiest metrosexual vampire in a long line of douchey metrosexual vampires… sounds like fun! Off in the distance one can squint to see a veritable blood orgy of overhyped garbage games having at each other and vying to wear the imaginary jewel laden crown of the next gen – which none of them deserve- but compared to wandering the desert, enslavement in Babylon looks pretty enticing! So you search through your pockets and pilfer whatever sustenance you can find from the back catalog of games you either never got around to completing or fondly remember and think it would be worth your time to revisit. Gotta do something to pass the time, eh? And this dreary pursuit has led me to the subject that has been laboring about in my mind, replay value.
First, one must define the difference between gaming and any other major form of entertainment in terms of revisiting and replay. After all it’s not uncommon to return to start a book, watch a movie several times, or even whole seasons of a T.V. show. Reveling in the gluttonous glory that is lying naked on a leather couch and watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy for the 47th time, while you have a pile of games waiting to be revisited (what oddly fetishistic image…). But at times picking up a game again can seem so… Difficult? Overcommitted? Tedious even? Why is that? The reason can vary from game to game but it really comes down the fact that games are a uniquely complicit form of entertainment. Oh sure that community theatre production of Romeo and Juliet may have invited audience participation, but nobody jumped off the stage, put a script and a crowbar in your hand, demanded you recite “what light through yonder window breaks” while you beat Tybolt’s face in, did they? But games do this. Games require your conscious, participatory effort for you to receive any experience from them and, in many ways, therein lies the problem as well as the glory. I shouldn’t have to come right out and say it as it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but I will, “They’re work, games are work!” But unlike your dreary, work a day, shit real world work; games reward you in a way that makes you feel significant, and often in a much shorter amount of time than anything in the real world. So why is it that at times only certain games draw us back in?
Well, there could be some wiggle room and variance from gamer to gamer regarding taste and what they feel is worthy of revisiting. Much like other forms of media a game has to grab us and not let go with its story and presentation, but gaming has that little participation vector dangling and flopping about on it that can make it either an absolute joy to behold or a complete pain in the ass – Ha! Not so subtle penis humor- the gameplay factor. It may seem like a call back to the Last of Us article but it’s amazing how little developers at times tend to remember how crucial this can be, and how little niggling issues with gameplay can lead to your game being traded back to GameStop within a week. There are a plethora of ways in which a game can use its gameplay to suck you back in. Fond memories of empowerment, loss of empowerment, immersion, and fantasy fulfillment are just a few examples. There are plenty of ways the mechanics of a game can give you these experiences but if they don’t suck you in, and if the act of interacting in the world is in any way, more tedious, frustrating, or too time consuming than exciting, something’s wrong. It doesn’t make the game bad, nor does it mean it has no replay value, but it does mean that you will lose some return visitors, and maybe not even grab their attention the first time.
I think it’s also fair to point out that games are the only medium of entertainment that actively tries to stop us from completing it. I mean it’s not like a movie makes you prove yourself in the Thunderdome before it lets you watch the next scene. Not really related to replay value, but I thought it was a point worth mentioning. But to look at the different ways that game replay draws us in let’s look at some examples. Skyrim, a game I may come back to in future articles, brings us back often through its versatility. Skyrim’s sheer plethora of options allows the player to have any experience they choose, from playstyle and approach to appearance. It is so open ended that we can always try to play it differently – and that’s not even mentioning the mods available on pc – but it’s still not perfect. The tedium of starting again can often kill a second play through before it starts. Bioshock (Infinite or Diet) draws a person back in through the richness of the experience and the unanswered questions. We want to look at how things play out again and the details are often more interesting than the conclusion. There also games with multiple endings, but those are usual games with binary moral choice systems, and binary moral choice systems are bollocks. What’s great is that these games also have engaging gameplay to keep us enjoying the experience. But I remember a time in recent memory when I was standing on the edge of a rather high cliff, ready to dive head first into a new Final Fantasy VII campaign – now so it’s clear, I love FF7 as much as any other bloke, and I want to draw as little ire and as few death threats as possible through this qualification but..- I couldn’t do it. No matter my love for the game and my desire to pay it again, I couldn’t do it. The sheer fear of the commitment, and yes, tedium of trying play thought a game with so much depth and content killed my return trip early on. I couldn’t simply sit back and be involved with the game, because it was so much bigger than that, and I couldn’t dive back into a commitment like that. Like many of my passed relationships the game beckoned to me from the courtyard that it loved me and while I stood on the balcony being a cheeky little tease with commitment issues. So I walked away. Went into my manor and ate an entire Tub of Ben&Jerry instead bathing in sweet decadence while two beautiful burly Samoan men fan my voluptuous body…. What were we talking about?….
So… yeah… Do you get it? I want us to think, not only of what elements draw us back to specific games, but also what pushes us away from replaying them, even though we would give both pinky finger, and annual income to relive the experience we know they can give us.
Video games are an abusive relationship.
Well, now that that’s over, and hopefully we all have come to think a little more about what brings us back to specific games and August is here, let’s get back to the up and coming releases. Let’s see here… Sequel, Sequel, Sequel, Another Fucking Mario, Sequel, and Madden…
…Excuse me for a moment, I’m just going to take a brief excursion into this coat closet with not but a bottle of Nyquil AND SOME ROPE!