Think about the video games you keep going back to. The ones you have dumped countless hours in to, finishing the game fast or slow, investigating every nook and cranny. Would you say it's worth it? Of course you would, you wouldn't be replaying the game otherwise. But at what cost does returning to our favourite games come at? Mastering a game should be a sign of appreciation for it, a symbol that you truly understand its mechanics. If that's the case, why is it that it can feel like a bittersweet victory?
As much as I love the game, I have played Resident Evil 4 far too many times. I've finished numerous runs of it on practically every platform it has been released on. But despite having completed the game ad nauseam, there was still one unlockable I had not obtained, that being The Handcannon. Unlocked by completing "The Mercenaries" mode with every character on every stage achieving a five star rating, it stands as the only unlock that takes actual knowledge and skill of the game to achieve. And every iteration of Resident Evil 4 taunted me with it. I'd always make one seemingly-innocent-yet-expectedly-fatal mistake and my score would be out the window. Enough of that and then I'd find myself content with where I was at in the game. That was until I bought the HD re-release on Steam.
I decided that if I could get that gun on this platform, I would be done with the game. I burned through the story mode and quickly found myself shooting my way through the mini-game. A handful of hours later, I was at the last stage with the last character I had yet to complete. Leon is the worst. His weapons are trash compared to the rest of the roster, and he lacks a viable way of taking care of some of the modes tougher enemies, Dr. Salvador in particular. Nevertheless, after having seen Leon's head get cut off more times than I care to count, I finally managed to land 60,000 points. 5 stars. The Handcannon was mine to use. I booted up a save file just to buy it and close the game, but I suddenly found myself replaying the story mode trying to get enough money to fully upgrade. A few hours later, and I was there. Done. I was ready to move on to other games…
The next day I started a new file on the hardest difficulty. I don't own every hidden weapon on a Professional save file yet, was my justification. That required another playthrough which took even more time, and another half playthrough just to have enough money to afford the unlocks that required money and upgrading. In the end, I ended up with a save screen that looked like this:
With everything being said and done, my main issue was that I was spending time to complete, or "100%" a game I knew I could complete. Save for one small aspect of the game, I knew I was capable of finishing it. There was no challenge left to be found in the game. On the Wii release of the game, I even did a knife and Handgun only run. At this point, I was playing the game simply because I knew that I could do all that. In the end I'm not even sure that I wanted to, but by that point it was far too late. I dumped another 50 hours in to a game I had already dumped over 300 in to. Playing the game had finally become a chore.
All this while I had a bunch of other games I had bought during the Steam Summer Sale, most started but none finished. Some of which I can guarantee will fall in to the cracks of my perpetually monstrous backlog. Another 50 hours that could have been put towards Ys II, Battleblock Theater, or Jet Set Radio. Even if I didn't end up enjoying those games, they would be new experiences, which is something I can't say for having dumped another 2 days worth of game time in to the same game I've been playing since 2004. I could have spent that time getting better at fighting games, or raising my online ranking in Mario Kart 8, generally playing games that actually have a way to measure your skill in comparison to others.
I think it's important to evaluate why we choose to play the games we play. Obviously there are people who only like one genre of game, or even just one game in particular. But as a general hobbyist, when playing games we need to consider why we're playing it, especially when trying to juggle a time consuming hobby such as video games. It's important to move on to new experiences because it keeps in mind the spirit of the medium: progress. We ultimately play games because we want to move forward in them, because we enjoy them and look forward to playing the next stage, fighting the next boss, or seeing what beloved character will die off next. But when one subjects themselves to the same experience time and time again, all that's gained is a reminder of an experience that we've already had. Reminiscing is fine, though nostalgia can quickly blind us.
If you ever find yourself replaying a game for the umpteenth time, I suggest considering if you're actually enjoying it any more. If I had asked myself that 50 hours ago in my time playing Resident Evil 4, then maybe I wouldn't have slogged through the game so many times. I might be able to tell you where every hidden treasure is, but I'm not sure I'll be able to tell you if I'll play the game again.