You're lying on your deathbed. Family members of the closest kind test the capacity limit of the hospital room, and finish off what was left of the tissue boxes. The nurse's shoes squeak on the tile floor from the many fallen teardrops. She checks your monitors one last time. A warm hand clasps yours; you squeeze back.
"How are you doing?" whispers a familiar voice, perhaps a son or daughter.
You ponder this question between irregular breaths. Well, you're not great-any imbecile could see that. But now isn't the time for smartass remarks. You think about the question once more. It's been an interesting life, hasn't it? You'd love to harbor not a single regret, but you'd only be fooling yourself. There were different paths you wish you would have taken; people you wish you hadn't hurt. There were moments you'd like to forget and others you'd do anything to relive.
But none of it matters now, you think. All in all, it was quite the adventure.
You close your eyes for the last time. After a few moments of blackness, you open your eyes and find yourself back in a hospital room, gazing up at your mother's smiling face.
Congratulations! You've unlocked your life's Second Playthrough.
There is an irreplaceable feeling of satisfaction that comes with completing a game that has thoroughly sucked you in—and sometimes, even a feeling of emptiness. You've spent so much time solving puzzles, hanging from ledges, and gunning down enemies with your main character that, when it's over, all you want to do is do it all again.
Not only does playing through your favourite games a second time extend the enjoyment, it gives you the chance to make radically different decisions. I mean, come on, we've all played Mass Effect twice just to see what happens when we make Commander Shepard a total jerk. Games like Fable, Heavy Rain, and BioShock are shining examples of the video game industry's 21st-century trend of in-game decisions having consequences. These choices often affect the entire outcome of the game.
This tactic is obviously an attempt to make video games more life-like. But what if these ideas were flipped, and we made life more like a video game?
Your New Save File
It's a classic query: "What would life be like if I could do it all again retaining the knowledge I've acquired?" But let's take it a step further and look at this question through video game goggles.
What do you do differently when playing through a game the second time? As mentioned, replaying games like Mass Effect and Fable give us the chance to choose opposite paths than we initially chose. If your first Shepard was ruthless, try softening him up. If your Fable III King or Queen was a gracious ruler the first go around, why not give good ole tyranny a try? (Oppression = Funpression!)
A second stab at your own life could be given the same treatment. You could live differently. You could be your anti-you. The knowledge of how your instinctual decisions turn out would inevitably give you some courage–-and curiosity-–to try the opposite. Naturally-reserved people may suddenly feel the freedom to let loose, while the reckless may realise that slowing down and treating situations with more care can pay off.
Sound familiar? While most of us likely tiptoed through our first attempts at, say F.E.A.R., we ran through guns a-blazin' the second time. Conversely, playing through games like Bulletstorm hastily was a blast, but a second, more careful playthrough is the perfect chance to master all of the "creative" kills, see new animations, and of course, garner those achievements for bragging rights.
Perfecting the Experience
An alternate way one could replay life would be to not necessarily make radically different decisions at all. Rather, you could choose the same paths, while simply perfecting the events.
With games like Mega Man, you don't play through a second time to try for a different ending or experience a new adventure. You play again in order to master each level with perfection. No more "trial and error."
Consider being able to replay life as the same person with the same personality making the same decisions, but this time, you know exactly how to woo your future wife/husband, exactly how to ace your SATs, and exactly when to get your car's brakes checked so you don't end up in that tree again. Your entire life would be the movie "Groundhog Day"-–you know what's going to happen; why not prevent the hardships and jump right to the good times?
This is similar to replaying RPG battles, where the knowledge you've gained from the first playthrough gives you the ability for maximum preparation. You know a certain battle is going to suck, so you make sure you have this armour with that sword and these 50 revive potions, as well as selecting the perfect secondary characters to have on your team.
You could utilise this same strategy in your life's second playthrough. For example, if you know you're going to get held up for your wallet on May 6, 2009, you'll make sure to be armed with pepper spray this time, maybe brush up on your martial arts skills, and have a large friend with you, who is preferably a cop. (Or, you know, just avoid strolling by that particular alley that day.)
Chrono Trigger introduced the idea of "New Game Plus," the act of unlocking a Second Playthrough mode that allows you to retain not only your experience, but some of the items you've acquired, the level you've reached, and sometimes even money you've earned. Imagine this working in real life! If you earned millionaire status in your last life, suddenly you're emerging from the womb as a millionaire. With a diploma. And a driver's licence. Maybe even a wedding ring? A Porsche? A Nobel Peace Prize?!
Okay, that might be going a bit overboard, especially considering the fact that restarting video games with your same inventory doesn't mean you'll still retain "key items" that progress the story. Starting a new game of God of War with Pandora's Box already in your possession would kind of defeat the purpose of spending the majority of the game trying to acquire it. A wedding ring, for example, could be considered a key item-–the key that unlocks the door to marriage. First you must acquire it, then wield it with care.
In Dead Space, restarting the game on the same difficulty means you can restart with your previous game's inventory/experience. However, starting over on an increased difficulty level means your pockets are empty and you're back to being a weak little vulnerable spaceman. You know what's coming, but you sure as hell ain't prepared.
An increase in your life's difficulty level could affect many things: bigger schoolyard bullies, near-impossible DMV tests, pure evil bosses, cops on every corner, and don't even get me started on how hard dating would be. (That cute "You're my density" speech is definitely not going to win anyone over.)
Sorry, No Speed Runs
One major difference between playing through life a second time vs. playing through a game is that, well, you can't really live life faster. I replayed both Monkey Island 1 and 2's Special Editions in order to get the "Finish the game in under three hours" achievement, but it's highly unlikely that you could "Complete life in under 50 years." Either days would be half as long or you'd be graduating college at age 12. My brain is starting to hurt just thinking about it.
In the end, there are two schools of thought: Would you replay life as a completely different person or as the same person, only better? Would you want a new adventure with new dialogue choices or the same adventure keeping a one-step-ahead mentality? I guess it all depends on how satisfied you are with your first playthrough.
…But let's be honest, the only reason any of us would want to replay life is to acquire the Infinite Rocket Launcher.
Kotaku columnist Lisa Foiles is best known as the former star of Nickelodeon's award-winning comedy show, All That. She currently works as an actress/web host in Hollywood and writes for her game site, Save Point. For more info, visit Lisa's official website.