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I've put nearly 400 hours into The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt across four different playthroughs. One at a time ladies, please.
The first, and quite possibly best playthrough, was on a base PlayStation 4. Not too long after that I got an Xbox One X and put in another two playthroughs. That all started because I wanted to "quickly" see how good the game looked in glorious 4K. Less than a year after that, I picked up the Nintendo Switch version of the game, and my commute was devoured by what became my most thorough run of the game yet. I saw everything the base game and DLC expansions had to offer.
I'm sure you've all heard that The Witcher 3 will be released in a next-gen version at some point this year, too. I will, of course, be making sure that the PlayStation 5 is home to my fifth playthrough of CD Projekt RED's open-world masterpiece.
Replaying the same games over and over (and over) again is something I do a lot, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this. As I write these words, in fact, I've just finished up a fourth playthrough of Marvel's Spider-Man, and am already considering a fifth playthrough of The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, a game that has already gobbled up well over 300 hours of my life on Switch.
It doesn't end there. At least once a year, I revisit old classics like Super Mario World, Pokémon Gold, and Metroid Prime. These are some of my favourite titles, and I find myself being drawn to them regularly - often at the expense of many newer experiences that are calling out to be played.
Why is it that so many of us retreat to the video games we already know and love, even as our ever-growing backlog of titles begs for mercy in the background? The answer to that question is, I suspect, a little different for everyone. I think we can all at least agree that there's comfort in the familiar though, and that replaying older games provides a dreamy nostalgia that's almost guaranteed to create a sense of calm.
Speaking very personally, I have moderate anxiety that can, during times of great stress and uncertainty, flair up quite severely. You can imagine what a laugh something like a global pandemic has been for me. "Is my chest tight and breathing shallow because I'm anxious or have I caught COVID," is one of the unexpected games I found myself playing a few times a week in 2020.
It's during these periods when my anxiety is really kicking me in the face that I like to re-watch the same TV shows, read the same books, and play the same video games. There's a soothing element knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will enjoy what I'm about to read/watch/play... because I've already read/watched/played it.
"Nostalgia can lend us much-needed context, perspective and direction, reminding and reassuring us that our life is not as banal as it may seem," Neel Burton, author of Heaven and Hell: Psychology of the Emotions explained to Huffington Post. "It also tells us that there have been - and will once again be - meaningful moments and experiences."
In other words, going back to old games or TV shows provides this ready-made pool of mental calm for you to dip into at any time. Feeling particularly sad and blue during the winter months? Boot up an old classic from your childhood to be transported back, if only for a while. That's exactly why I tend(ed) to play older SNES and N64 games on my commutes home throughout January and February: the bright colours pixelated worlds conjure up memories and feelings that keep me toasty warm even as the world outside is sad and grey. Throw in the human brain's inherent love of repetition, and you can see exactly why revisiting your favourite games often feels so much more appealing than starting something new.
Taking comfort in the nostalgic glow of the familiar isn't something that's just limited to people like myself who struggle with anxiety of course, though I have always found it to be a particularly soothing tool. Simply put, it feels better to me during times of stress to know where the story is going and what's happening to the characters. It's a kind of control, I suppose. Even if the game is something inherently stressful, like The Last Of Us Part II or Bloodborne, if I'm already used to those unexpected moments or seemingly insurmountable challenges, I've no problem doing it all again.
And to make it very clear, this doesn't mean I'm against playing new games, nor do I actively avoid doing so. For one thing, that would be pretty hard in my line of work. For another, I genuinely love diving into new games, discovering new experiences, and exploring brave new worlds. Finding a great new game that I can lose myself in? Well, there's nothing quite like it - especially when I know I've found a game that will join my constantly growing pantheon of titles I'll come back to over and over again.
It's just that more often than not, when faced with a range of potential new games to play, I'll choose the warm familiarity of the old over the endless possibility of the new. Does that make me a boring SOB? No, although to be very, very clear I am an incredibly boring SOB. It's just that this isn't why.
If sitting down with a cup of tea to create a new stealth archer in Skyrim after a long and stressful day at work is what makes me feel better, then why shouldn't I do that? Who says there's some quota of new games played that I need to complete every year? It's not like someone is going to come along and take away my gamer card. This is my hobby, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying it in a way that works for me, even if that might look a little odd to people from the outside. If you want to start your thousandth new game of Age Of Empires 2, don't let the new games you haven't played stop you from doing that. All the new stuff will still be there waiting when you're ready - they'll just be slightly less new.
After all, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a little bit of repetition. A little bit of repetition.
There are various resources that can help provide mental health support, including MIND, Samaritans, Safe In Our World and CALM:
0300 123 3393
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