As video games age, so does the lingo. The way we evaluate our medium has evolved, if “evaluate” is even really the appropriate word at this point. Reviews aren't often broken down into separate, averaged sections anymore. The days of graphics, sound, gameplay, and replay value are over, and rightfully so. But sometimes I find myself wondering about “replay value” as a concept. What does it mean, and how on Earth do people quantify the “replayability” of a game?
For the purposes of his piece, I thought for a while about the games I've revisited several times over. The results vary. Donkey Kong Country. Mass Effect. Mega Man 2. Turtles in Time. EarthBound. Super Mario Bros. Kirby’s Adventure. Assorted Final Fantasies and Dragon Quests are all ones I keep playing. I don't even know if things like online shooters and fighting games count, but I've certainly put dozens of hours into Team Fortress 2 and Street Fighter IV.
So many game reviews and pieces of Internet commentary I've read over the years touch on “replay value” at some point, as if such a thing can be measured in some universal, objective capacity. I look at the games I listed above and can't come up with a common thread, or singularly appealing part of them that inherently facilitates going back to them over and over. Some of them are slow-paced RPGs, telling a single story that unfolds over dozens of hours. Some of them are arcade-style brawlers - small, explosive bursts of simple action. Others are platformers, like, they're about jumping on stuff.
These games all have value in revisiting them, just like any other work that clicks with a person. Perhaps the story is so good, revisiting it a year later with a fresh perspective enhances your understanding and appreciation. Perhaps the core mechanics are so finely tuned, it never feels stale. Perhaps there are assorted bonuses and unlockables that effectively push and prod you into starting back over after the credits roll. Maybe your game of choice simply has a bunch of different ways to play, such as Mario Kart or a Tekken. Hell, even more intangible things like sentimental value are factors here. It’s all about how you interact with a game and what you get out of it.
This is why things like breaking down games to numbers is such a problem. We all get into a frenzy over review scores, but for what reason? To find something to get mad about? To validate our financial decisions? It doesn’t make any sense. A game is not the sum of a bunch of numbers; it’s an experience that each person will get something different from. You and I could sit in front of the same game, play it for the same amount of time and come away from it with totally distinct perspectives. That’s the ideal. Consensus is a problem. Nuance is great. Tell me why the game I think is boring is the best thing you’ve ever dedicated a chunk of your life to, because even if you don’t change my mind, I get to look at something differently, and that rules.
What games do you find yourself going back to and why? Let me know!