We’ve been exploring what might be the reason we’re playing our favorite games for a century, what motivations are behind the nostalgia.
It must have happened to you that after many years you picked up your favorite video game again, you remember every detail of it: you blow the dialogues from the outside, you know the location of the hidden objects from routine, you can go through the tracks with your eyes closed. Why is it a pleasure to play the well-known gameplay for a century?
There can be several reasons for this, and it varies from person to person, which reasons have a stronger motivating force. In this article, we’ll review some of the social, personal, and gaming reasons that can explain why we sometimes return to old, well-known games instead of looking for new experiences.
Safe points in our lives
Let’s start right away with a reason we might think less about. You’ve probably all found that you especially loved a story as a kid. So much so that you wanted to hear it again every night. This phenomenon is well known in developmental psychology and has a specific function.
Kids basically love familiar, familiar objects and events because they give them a sense of security. This is no different for adults: we have to deal with many unexpected situations during the day, which can often cause tension and anxiety, which can increase our levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Permanence, the development of a routine can help reduce the stress caused by insecure situations. The tales we heard in our childhood are usually associated with relaxation, a sense of security, and caring subconsciously, as most of the time we could hear them in a calm environment, relaxed, before falling asleep.
This pattern persists in the later stages of our lives, ie we associate the recurring elements and events that suggest permanence with calmness and a sense of security. That’s why if we take out and replay our old video games, it fills us with a sense of security and competence. We feel that we already know this world, we are his “masters”, we know exactly what we need to do. We should not be surprised, that is, we control the events. In light of this, it’s no surprise that we often feel the urge to replay one of our old favorites in our particularly stressful stages of life. This also creates a sense of security, permanence and control for ourselves in uncertain, stressful conditions, thus reducing the psychological strain on us.
The good old times
Another driving force is nostalgia. We often say that time beautifies memories, or long ago everything was better than now. Our memory really distorts some of the life events we experience in a positive direction. When we replay an old game, we’re more likely to recall positive memories not only of our first gaming experience (e.g., how good it was when we finally figured out a tricky puzzle), but also of our life events happening at the same time as the game (e.g. celebrated by the family).
Remembering positive events, in addition to making us feel good, by giving us a look back at significant points in our lives, also gives us pillars, that is, it helps us to systematize what is happening in our lives.
Video game researcher recently explained that the nostalgia experienced during the gaming experience can have a positive impact on our mental health during a pandemic period. According to the researcher, this positive force works in three different ways. On the one hand, nostalgia helps us get closer to ourselves, especially to the pre-epidemic self. By remembering our past goals, our daily tasks, we do not forget what we can become, what we want to achieve, so we remain optimistic about the future. On the other hand, looking back at the past can give our lives new goals, as we can rethink why it was worth fighting for, what we have achieved. Finally, we can also talk about the social aspect of nostalgia. This means that during recollection, we most often recall social events. These memories can reduce our sense of loneliness and help us forget about social isolation for a short time during an epidemic.
Experiencing nostalgia can also expand our self-knowledge by gaining a better insight into how we have changed since we first met the game, ie connecting our experiences at the time with our current life events.
This can sometimes lead to us seeing the events in the game in a different color and forming a different opinion about them than we did during the first game. It is also possible that due to the change between our past and present selves, our roles will be given a new meaning in a game scene, to which we have not previously given special significance (eg we have to take responsibility for a child’s character in the game). If we first played the game in our teens, we may later have a different attitude towards the character entrusted to us as a parent. In this way, replaying can mean continuity and continuity for us, ie it gives us a sense of progress, an increase in knowledge and experience.
The social experience
It’s worth going back to the power of thought for the social context that replaying a game can give. In many cases, the first game is a social experience, ie we mostly share it with our friends and family members. If we take out an old game, we can recall who we played with, what event the game came up with (e.g. a gathering of friends). That’s why we may be replaying a game to recall time spent with people we may no longer be in contact with.
At the same time, the social experience includes a special bond that psychology defines as a parasocial relationship. The term refers to a one-sided emotional bond that is most often felt in relation to a famous person or a fictional character of Mass Effect, it’s important to mention that games that also allow for a deeper understanding of the characters, but also encourage collaboration with characters throughout the gameplay, can provide a particularly strong motivation for replay. Thus, replay can in many cases be an experience, as if we are meeting the old team again and recalling past successes, the time we spent together. Parasocial relationships are often able to counterbalance real-life loneliness, thus contributing to increased mental well-being.
The key lies in the game
In addition to psychological factors, it may be important to mention the elements inherent in the game that motivate us to return to the game again. Complexity is one such factor.
We can often feel that during the first walk-through we only got to know the dynamics of the game, how it works, and in order to routinely “navigate” in it, we have to spend more time in the world.
That’s why we sometimes tend to see the first walkthrough as just an experience, an exploration, and after the first orientation, we’ll strive for professionalism once we’ve learned the game. Multi-character story modes can also help us in this endeavor. It can also be an incentive to discover even more extra content that we may have skipped during the first game. We may also feel like we’ve just gotten into the game when it’s over and want to make up for our lack of replay with instant replay.
If we feel like we missed out on a lot of extra content and exploration during the first run, sometimes we find that on the second adventure – especially when a lot of time has passed between the two – our old favorite has really been renewed. We can also experience this when we return for new abilities or even more points, meaning we want to expand the gaming experience with new features that may not have been available to us during the first game.
It can also add to the urge to replay that, as our dexterity and routine develop, we feel increasingly prepared to complete missions at more difficult levels. We can also strive to take our game to a professional level, so replaying is for practice.
Returning to the complexity, there may be another argument in favor of replaying, that after getting to know the routine and the game, we have the opportunity to observe the smallest details. Especially in games with a complex background story, we may feel the need to spend even more time learning the story. This is also the case when we revisit a film in order to better compose the picture, i.e. to understand the threads of events that led to the outcome of the story. In the same way, we can look for dropped comments in the in-game dialogues, from which the end of the story can already be guessed. We often think that we already know every little moment of our favorite game, we know the dialogues by heart. A new discovery that predicts the course of events can add a different color to what happened.
We can see that there can be a variety of motivations behind replaying an old favorite of ours. And what may be the main motivators for rediscovery: whether to expand our gaming experience with new features, reveal hidden content, or want to relive the time we spend with our old friends? It can also be, of course, that in a stressful period we want to find support and relax in the old, well-proven way. Whatever the reason, a replay full of experiences can help you get rid of the stress and negative feelings in our current life situation.