Better With Others

Jim Wasserman

IN THE COMPUTER gaming world—and I’ll openly admit to occupying that realm often—one measure of a game’s value is its replayability. If you shell out $60 and play a game through to the end, how likely are you to do it again? Each time you replay, you’re getting more value from your initial outlay, making it a better decision.

I sometimes use that economic logic to try to persuade my wife it’s better for me to “shoot and loot” from my gaming chair than do household chores. I’m adding value to my spending, I’ll explain. She never buys it.

Replayability varies by genre and person. For fantasy quests and RPGs—role-playing games—replayability is often low. Once you’ve solved the puzzles and completed the quests, there’s little mystery left. To compensate, game makers create a vast world inside and fill it with lots of tasks.

On the other hand, strategy games have high replayability because the variables change with each game. My sons enjoy virtual card games. I’m a 30-year fan of the various incarnations of Civilization, where you develop a people economically, politically and militarily to conquer others.

The concept of added value from replayability applies in the real world as well, especially leisure spending. We recently rented a house on a lake. While immersing ourselves in relaxation, we discussed buying a lake house, or splitting the cost of one with family and taking turns visiting. We quickly realized, however, that the replayability for us would be low.

Many people enjoy returning to the same familiar place every year. But we get antsy sitting in one place too long. Investing in replaying a vacation home getaway wouldn’t be a good decision for us. It’s all a matter of personal preference.

There’s one other important factor to gaming, though: human interaction. No artificial intelligence, no matter how sophisticated, can truly replicate the feeling of having a shared experience with another person. Many gamers form communities online with those who share their interests. In many ways, the game itself, while entertaining, may be little more than a MacGuffin—irrelevant to the game’s real pleasure.

I like solo computer gaming as a personal getaway. It’s the sharing of experiences, however, that truly adds value to the replayability of an activity. It’s the side comment that my wife or I will throw out at dinner about sneaky castling in our latest chess game. My son and I have played cribbage together for more than 20 years. Talking about how his job is going, or the day’s news, or what’s that thing that seems to be on his mind—that’s what makes me still enjoy our games after all this time.

If anything has unlimited replayability, it’s relationships.

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