Thursday, January 10, 2013

Replayability is a word

I just read the (2010) blog from ben abraham (lowercase from his blog name "ben abraham dot net"), "`Replayability` is NOT a word, so stop using it idiot!" I feel the need to reply to this, because it's a concept that I've come across before, and I'm kind of tired of dictionary thumpers. I don't want you to get the wrong idea, however. I'm glad that he wrote this article. It shows that he's at least thinking about what the video gaming community is. That's a good thing. I just think he's wrong about his conclusions.

First things, first: I would have written that title as, "`Replayability` ain't a word, so stop using it, newb!" I've thrown ain't and newb in that sentence for your mulling pleasure. Obviously, the point I'm making, here, is that language is affected by those who speak it. Mr. Webster didn't stop English from evolving by writing down all of the words he'd ever seen, and once you start getting into sub-cultures like video gaming, you run into all manner of words that people invent in order to describe their unique experience in that subculture.

So, back to "replayability"... I don't think we need to define the word in order to be able to use it. Instead, we need a contextual wrapper around the word that allows us to share a common frame of reference, whenever we use it. When I use the word, "replayability," what I mean is that, "I had fun playing a game (or a part of it) in more than one way." But there's a big, big problem with that statement: what's "fun"? This is the rub. Is "fun" the idea that I successfully spent a non-contiguous 20 hours of my life on a game and walked away with nothing tangible to show for it? Is "fun" the release of endorphines that accompanies feelings of fear, agression, satisfaction and sexual attraction? Perhaps "fun" is just the quality of being successfully distracted from the real world? Is it Webster's definition, "Enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure," which, by the way, is not a definition, but a list of synonyms that have the exact same problem?

The important answer to all of these questions is: it doesn't matter. Human beings understand what fun is, inherently. None of us are confused by it, unless we're a non-native English speaker, in which case, we only need to be told what the equivalent word is our native language. Fun is akin to "go", "love" or "be"... they're not words that need definition. They are fundamental parts of the human psyche.

The other problem with trying to define what replayability means is that it seeks to narrow our definition of the relationship between the gamer and the game. But the history of video gaming is exactly the history of the repeated violation of any expectations about the relationship between the gamer and the game. Twelve million of my best friends and I used to play a game called World of Warcraft. It consistently pulled in more cash by orders of magnitude than any other game in the industry, but it was on the list of top-grossing games for only a short time after its release. Why? Because the industry had this strange expectation that video games are point-in-time events. They were sold at one point in time and that sale was the game's measure of success. What MMOs taught us was that games could be sold once, but then succeed multiple times by continuing to incent that player to keep paying more money every month. Indeed, that lesson was so powerful that some games abandoned the model of the initial sale entirely, moving to a model of either recurring subscription or piecemeal supplemental purchases in-game or both.

Of course, that's just the financials. If you look at the playing of the game itself, the evolution is even more stark. Killing the bad guy used to be the name of the game, but now it's "how" you kill the bad guy. Stealth games abound; successful games are ones that give you multiple paths through every encounter, allowing you to choose your play style... giving you that magical brew: replayability.

To close, let me just say that if you feel that replayability is just too offensive a term to be allowed, just read every use of it as, "repeatability" which is a perfectly suitable and defined word in the English language.

Post a Comment