What Gives a Single-Player Game Replayability?

I’m doing something a little different for this week’s post. It’s a question that’s been following me for some time, and I’d definitely like to hear some of your thoughts as well!

I’m the type of person who will reread a book, rewatch a movie, or replay a game many times when I fall in love with it. It’s that intoxicating feeling of “I need more of this world” that will sometimes compel me to reread/rewatch/replay it almost immediately after finishing it the first time.

But it’s an interesting thing: rewatching a movie will only take a few hours of your time, rereading a book depends on the length and might only take some days to finish again, but a game…well, a game could take 40, 60, even 100 hours to finish again. So what exactly is the driving factor that will make us dedicate that much time to replaying a single-player game?

I imagine the answer is somewhat similar to why you would want to reread a book or rewatch a movie: something about the world/the characters/the story resonated strongly enough to pull you back in. Or maybe the answer lies in the mechanics of a story: some games provide different choices, different outcomes, different endings and you want to explore as many of them as possible. Over the years, I’ve realized that two specific things will make me want to replay a game: love of the world/characters and making different decisions.

On my Twitch streams recently, I’ve been replaying two games that I’ve previously reviewed: Transistor and Battle Chef Brigade. Both are very linear storylines and you would expect that with a linear storyline, I’d finish the playthrough, dust off my hands, and say “Well I got all wanted out of that, time to move on.” However, that’s not the case at all. Throughout these games and even after, I was still very drawn to their stories, their characters, their gameplay, the art, the music, and just everything about each game. I wanted more of these worlds, almost as if playing them would allow me just a little bit closer to experiencing those worlds or at least, dig a little bit deeper and find there was more discover. It’s the same reason I’ve already played Persona 5 twice and I’m still ready for another round. I know I’ve already discovered much of what the game has to offer, but maybe I’m still here because I want to revisit the worlds I left behind and invoke those same feelings that I did when I first played them.

Wanting to replay a game to make different decisions feels like the easy answer and yet it’s one of the big reasons I keep coming back: asking yourself “what if I had made this decision instead?” and that cues an automatic replay if you enjoyed the game enough. It’s natural in a medium that allows freedom of choice and where the writers/game developers actually anticipate that their players would want to explore every and any possibility. As I mentioned in my Hidden Agenda post, my sister and I replayed the game three times in order to explore every possibility the game had to offer, at least in the hopes of getting some sort of “True Ending.” Depending on whether you decide to kill your enemies or not, the Dishonored series keeps a careful eye on your actions and will categorize you as “Low Chaos” or “High Chaos” in order to decide on an ending. Dragon Age seems to be my go-to for these types of posts, but it’s true that my replay value has come from creating vastly different characters who make different decisions and lead different lives to see different possibilities. But I don’t think player decision-making can be limited to making one choice over the other in a very binary sort of set-up. I’ve seen many people replay games like Stardew Valley so that they can create different farms and they can marry different people. Pyre has a multitude of possible endings through choosing who wins each of the final matches. Arguably, the recent Fire Emblem installments fall under the same category: replaying to have different marriage combinations or to see different Support conversations.

I won’t deny it, I know many people (myself included) will also replay a game to collect achievements. It’s probably one of my favorite things that has been included in games, both because you can do something you wouldn’t have otherwise and because it’s a nice little sense of satisfaction when you get that “Achievement Unlocked” notification. I usually play my games first and then go back and search for achievements I definitely missed, but it is a good way to inspire a replay. New Game+ bonuses are also really nice features that can sometimes help along the way (i.e. Dishonored 2’s ability to use the other character’s abilities if you’ve already played once). More recently, I’ve noticed that watching someone else play that game you love is great for re-sparking interest. It invokes the same sort of emotion that you get while you’re playing, so naturally, you’re going to want to go back and play the game yourself.

But I want to hear from all of you: what drives you to replay a game? Is it the story, characters, and world? Is it the decision making? Achievements?

I’m purposely leaving out (most) multiplayer games in this post because I am specifically curious about what drives replayability in single-player games. Let me know what you think! I’d love to hear your answers!

Happy gaming!

~ M

6 thoughts on “What Gives a Single-Player Game Replayability?”

  1. It’s a combination of both choice-making and revisiting a setting and its characters, for me. Playing new games and diversifying is of course great, but replaying old favorites is kind of its own unique feeling.

  2. I have to say for me it’s a combination of outcome with decisions you make. L.A. Noire us a perfect example of this. Another factor for me is enjoyment factor. If you really enjoyed a game and wouldn’t mind picking it up and playing it again you must’ve really enjoyed it to some degree.

    1. I agree! I like seeing all the possible outcomes a game has to offer, and if I enjoyed it enough to want to replay it, even better!

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