The playthrough paradox: why we play games multiple times

What’s in a playthrough?

A playthrough is considered starting a fresh game and completing the main objective or at least the critical path of progression.  For some, known as completionists, it is about finishing every single game task before reaching an end condition such as the final boss.  For others playthroughs are simply means of experimentation, they never tire of the same story, the same missions, for those players they are interested in understanding every mechanic and strategy.  Lastly, and this is a bit of a sore point for the video game industry, a majority of players never complete a playthrough, they play a game for a while and if they get through to the end great, but if they only ever spend a few dozen hours enjoying the mechanics within the game world, that’s fine too.

I for one have had my fair share of games in which I lost interest when the difficulty spiked and I didn’t feel like grinding my way through the challenge, or others which gave me all of the gameplay mechanics I wanted early on, removing the desire to progress beyond what I had unlocked and enjoyed.

I have fallen somewhere in between those who just want to complete a playthrough if possible, and those who focus not on completing playthroughs but on experimenting with different mechanics and playstyles, even if that means starting 20 different characters and taking them all to level 10 instead of one to level 200.

Fallout 4_20161018200307

(My main character within Fallout 4 , you can read my full article about that playthrough experience in my article The world that he wants: the aftermath of siding with Shaun)

Rethinking playstyles and playthroughs

When I started writing about video games, I began to use up my well of game design knowledge and gameplay experiences that I had accumulated over a lifetime of playing games.  This meant that I needed to start playing new games, playing games I had never played before, and even returning to old favorites and playing them in ways that were contrary to my typical playstyle.

Although I felt it necessary to be topical and knowledgeable with the gaming trends by playing all of the latest and greatest titles released, there was something personally satisfying about discussing my gameplay experiences in depth, in hopes that they would resonate with other gamers.

Grand Theft Auto V_20161018204556

(I spent some time roleplaying as a normal person in GTA obeying traffic laws and walking from place to place, you can read my full article about that playthrough experience in my article GTA RPG: the joy of roleplaying as a normal person)

Intimate knowledge of a gameplay experience stems from the player’s immersion and enjoyment of said experience.  I have found those stories to come from the games I spent weeks playing, as opposed to hours analyzing. As I returned to some of my old favorites with an analytical eye I began to see the games differently, I had a foundation of deep understanding of the game due to my time spent playing it, but there were also new opportunities for me to explore.

This change in perspective was partially due to the expansion of games I was playing and the exploration into, and questioning of, my own personal playstyle.  In playing different games I approached each new system with an interest in discovering how different games awarded players using strategies that were not the most powerful or viable, i.e. peaceful / diplomatic means of victory as opposed to combat, as can be seen in my articles Peaceful victory: why more games should feature diplomacy, Forge of Empires: progression and maintaining culture, and my character series Pom Pom the Illusionist.


(Pom Pom is a peaceful character, who throughout my playthrough with her has developed into a pacifist protection mage who focuses on calming enemies to pacify them and healing and buffing her allies)

As I experimented with different playstyles that were not an expression of my personality but expressions of my investigation into the design of games, and whether or not they limited the player, I began to see different sides to my favorite games which I never would have seen without a different approach.

After returning to my favorite games with this perspective in mind I was surprised at how much more these games had to unpack, some of my favorites include Skyrim Special Edition, GTA V, and Fallout 4, which have endless ways of playing them and interacting with the world that create unique outcomes.

Since then I have enjoyed the process of thinking up playthroughs and playstyles much more. Now, they serve as spaces to commit to ideas that are strange or quirky, which I would never commit to if I were looking to only have a single playthrough, but can commit to if it is with the understanding that I am using each playthrough to investigate the systems of a game, to unearth the possibility of playing it in an unconventional manner, and to discover more about myself.

What do you focus on in your playthroughs? Are you a completionist, a one and done kind of player, or is completing a playthrough not that important to you?  Have you ever played a game wildly different from your typical playstyle?  Was it out of boredom with your usual MO, or curiosity in what a game had to offer?  I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please do so in the comments below, or write in to


Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on Facebook, TwitterInstagramand Youtube.





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