If I had more time, I’d begin playing games a little differently than I have for the last 30 years. I’d start them, but then I’d stop a couple of hours in and start again.
I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to play games this way because I just had this experience with the Metroid-style game Chasm. I’d bought it on my PS4 earlier this summer and played it for a couple of hours. At the time, I was confused about how the game was structured. I didn’t immediately get a grasp on how useful the main character’s dodge move was and didn’t slow down to read much of the lore text. The game was new. I wanted to dive into it. I was caught up in trying to notice how randomly-arranged the randomly-arranged rooms I’d read about in previews were. I played it recklessly.
The game was fine, but after a couple of hours I moved on to others.
Then, a couple of days ago, I received a download code for the Switch version of Chasm. I downloaded it to that system and started playing during a train ride home (hooray for my train rides that are no longer dominated by a manipulative “free” game!). Because I’d played Chasm for a couple of hours on my PS4, I understood the structure: one town would be my base of operations and I’d just keep exploring below it. This time, I had a better feel for the controls: I used the dodge wisely and didn’t die in my first hour of play. Also, I started reading the lore text more closely: I was absorbing the story.
On this second try, Chasm was clicking much better with me, right from the start.
My colleague Kirk Hamilton recommends that people play games a second time to enjoy them even more. His advice is persuasive, though I suspect it doubles as an excuse for why he never has time to finish the one game I’ve long urged him to complete, Assassin’s Creed Rogue. My experience with Chasm made me think he’s right, though. It feels way better to play a game when you’re far removed from any preconceptions you formed about it before you had even started it, as well as whatever snap judgements you had after playing the first time. Taking a break means you can more effectively notice the craft of what the developers have done. Games’ strengths (and weaknesses) are just so much more clear the second time around.
My habit of buying games for my Switch that I already bought for my PS4 or Xbox One makes it likely that I’ll experience what happened with Chasm again with these other games. I put two hours into Iconoclasts on PS4, liked it, and plan to start it again on Switch and likely appreciate it even more. The same might happen with Axiom Verge and Mark of the Ninja and Velocity 2X and Reigns and, wow, I’ll be giving a lot of games a fresh restart on Switch.
I’ve started to wonder what it would be like to do this with bigger games, too. I like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey a lot, and I’m two dozen hours too far into the game to realistically consider starting it over, but I did think about starting fresh just a few hours into the game as I was leaving its starting island. How much more might I appreciate the way the game’s main character is introduced if I already had a sense of how they’d develop later on? How much more in-character would I feel if I’d already gotten a good sense of the game’s tweaks to the series’ parry system and unlockable skills? How much more meaningful would the layout of the first island be if I’d already taken a few wrong turns on it during an initial play session?
Knowing Kirk, he’s probably going to 100-hour AC Odyssey, then restart and tell me how much better it is the second time. I can’t do that, but I wonder: maybe I should start giving games one hour, then rewind and start again.