Authored by: Christopher Hanson

The Routledge Companion to Video Game Studies

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415533324
eBook ISBN: 9780203114261
Adobe ISBN: 9781136290510


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While any individual play session of a given game may feature particularly unique elements and moments, almost all games and the pleasures associated with their play are reliant upon the mechanic of repetition and replay. Rarely does one play a game just once, and repetition is often necessary in learning a given game. For instance, a beginning checkers player may engage in multiple contests in order to fully learn the rules and develop effective play strategies. In almost all games, a player practices his or her play through actions of repetition, both in specific drills (such as a tennis player hitting balls against a wall) and more commonly through playing and replaying the game itself. More than video games, many non-digital games such as sports or less structured games such as “tag” often offer a far greater degree of variability due to their play within the “real world” and exposure to a potentially infinite number of variables that are frequently unrepeatable; environmental factors, energy levels, and moods all may continuously shape and alter each player’s game strategies and movement through the arena of play. It should be noted that some non-digital games such as chess and other tabletop games may limit these variables and can be repeatable in a manner similar to video games, as discussed below. Video games place an even greater emphasis on the function of repetition and replay than non-digital games as the player must familiarize himself/herself not only with the rules, but also with increasingly complex control and interface systems in order to master game environs, which often demand multiple navigational attempts through particularly challenging areas within the game. Torben Grodal argues that video games demonstrate an “aesthetic of repetition,” wherein much like the skills that we must repeat to develop and master in everyday life (i.e. walking or riding a bike), video games demand that the player engage in “repetitive rehearsal” of the controls and game mechanics in order to master them (2003, p. 148). For example, a player of Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1985) must learn the spatial and temporal patterns of the game in order to successfully navigate its levels and challenges. Games such as Dance Dance Revolution (Konami, 1998) and Guitar Hero (Activision, 2005) emphasize repetition as a form of mastery, rating a player’s “performance” by the accuracy with which s/he is able to emulate and mimic the game’s prompts; complex musical games such as Rocksmith (Ubisoft, 2011), in which players use real musical instruments, more closely emulate the more complex mode of repetition found in real-world mastery. Other games encourage players to re-visit and re-explore specific areas with new capabilities or powers or to replay through them in their entirety in order to fully “complete” them. Furthermore, several recent video games incorporate elements of replay in their core game mechanic by allowing the player to actively control and navigate temporal structures within the game.

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