to replay or not to replay

Usually when I finish reading a book, and I’m considering how much I liked it, I ask myself if I’d read it again. If a book has a profound impact on me, I’ll say with certainty that I want to reread it one day. (Whether or not I actually get around to rereading it is another matter altogether.)

There are a lot of books that I want to reread, but I never reread a book immediately after finishing it. At most, I might flick back through the book to revisit certain parts, but I know I must move on to another book before restarting the journey. The idea is to leave enough time between readings to allow some forgetting of events so that it can be experienced anew.

To date, I think I’ve only reread three books: The first I don’t remember the title, but I remember that I reread it unknowingly because I forgot that I’d already read it before. I realised about halfway through, and figured I may as well finish it because it was a light read. The second is Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, which I used to read in between other books as a kind of literary palate cleanser. Technically I never finished it the second time through, but I’m going to call it a “progressive reread”.

The third book I’ve reread is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which I just finished the other week. The main reason I wanted to revisit this novel is because I read it (and the Lord of the Rings trilogy) when I was quite young (possibly at the end of primary school / start of high school), so I don’t remember many details. And while I remember really enjoying the series, and being really engrossed in the story, I’m not sure my younger self would have appreciated all the details.

The question of “repeat-worthiness” can also be applied to other things. People might talk about movies or TV shows that they’ve watched multiple times because it’s still funny/scary/uplifting/whatever, no matter how many times they watch it. People will also listen to songs on repeat simply because they like it so much. There are also activities that people will repeat, but maybe not as frequently or easily as rewatching a film — fun runs or marathons, sky-diving, visiting certain restaurants, hiking, spa days, and so on.

I suppose it’s all just about repeating an experience to replicate a feeling. It’s interesting then, that I never really thought about it outside of books, music and food/drink.

One medium for which I’ve been contemplating this “repeat-worthiness” lately is video games. After finishing the Mass Effect trilogy, I really wanted to replay it. Even though I knew everything that would happen, the potential alternative scenarios, and all the possible different endings — despite all this, I still wanted to replay it.

Playing the game for the first time was a unique experience — making decisions based only on my own thoughts, reasoning, predictions and instinct — but this also meant that I sometimes made decisions in a bit of a panic. It was a bit hard to make good choices while being shot at from various angles, or while the pressure of saving the galaxy weighed down more and more heavily on me.

Replaying the game means there would be prior knowledge influencing each decision. I did consider that the scenarios might feel more contrived, and not so much like making decisions in the heat of the moment, but at least I wouldn’t be flustered and panicking. There’s also the (perceived) problem of knowing what actions will bring what outcomes, so everything becomes more like doing an exam when you already know all the right answers — satisfying in the knowledge of guaranteed success, but also a bit empty in the lack of risk.

In the past, the sort of games I played didn’t really lend themselves to this repeat-worthiness question — not because they weren’t good enough, but because they were already designed to be repeated indefinitely. These were games like sports in which you play multiple matches against different teams; racing games in which you drive on different tracks with different cars/characters; or combat/fighting type games in which you face different opponents or use different tactics in each round.

I have played other storyline-based games, and role playing games, but I remember one of these had a “free play” mode at the end, so it was sort of like it never ended (and there’s no real need to repeat something that hasn’t ended, right?) Another one I did go back to replay certain missions I’d quite enjoyed, but I don’t think I replayed it from start to finish.

So for a week or so after finishing Mass Effect, I was faced with this question: to replay or not to replay? On one hand, I had come to terms with how my journey ended, and no longer had the desire to change things; but on the other hand it was a really fun game that I thoroughly enjoyed playing, and I thought it would be fun to try out different options/scenarios.

In the end, I did restart it. I created a new protagonist with different abilities and a different background, so it wouldn’t be exactly the same as my first play-through. What I noticed when I started the replay was that I could absorb a lot more information, and I was a lot less confused. This is because there was a lot of information to take in at the start of the game — a completely new world with different aliens that have all these special traits, problems, politics, and so on and so forth. It was like watching a movie again and noticing all the clues you missed the first time.

What was interesting to me, however, was that my partner and I played Lego Lord of the Rings at some point in all this, and then I went back to playing Dragon Age, and then I realised that Mass Effect had taken a backseat. I still want to replay it, but the urgency that was attached to that desire is gone. It’s sort of become my gaming equivalent of Great Expectations, only it’s not possible to “flick through” a game like that and revisit whichever parts I want to replay. It’s all or nothing, but I’m ok with that.

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