The latest Brainy Gamer podcast is up, and it’s an interview with N’Gai Croal. The whole thing’s great, go listen to it, but in particular one thing that he talked about is something that’s been on my mind: the way that enthusiast press coverage of videogames is heavily weighted towards the preview period. I’ve talked about this before, so I don’t want to belabor the point, but it’s nice to hear more people saying this.

And he said something else that I thought I’d noticed but was glad to have confirmed: it seems like preview length (i.e. the length from when a game is first shown to when it launches) has shrunk over the last year or so. Nintendo, in particular, more and more frequently isn’t letting people see a game until six months to a year until launch. Which, potentially, puts a different spin to hardcore gamer complaints about Nintendo’s E3 press conference this year: I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they release a new Zelda game in 2009, despite not having shown anything along those lines this year.

He also talked about how, once you pull yourself away from the lure of the big enthusiast press sites, there’s not much reason necessarily to be frustrated that you can’t be like them: it’s so easy to make your own space talking about what you want to talk about! (Or something like that; I should really go back and listen to at least that part of the podcast again. Maybe I’m just talking about what I want to talk about, instead of accurately representing his views.) Which raises a question: what do I want to talk about?

Which, actually, isn’t what I’m going to talk about right now, but rather the somewhat related question: what do I want to play? There’s such a drive to always be playing new games; but, now that the scales have fallen from my eyes, I’m not at all sure that’s particularly healthy. Certainly I would never consider restricting myself to only reading new books, or to only listening to new music; why should video games be any different?

I actually have been playing some older games recently (or at least not-brand-new-games), but there’s still an important difference: even though those games were released a while ago, I hadn’t played either one before. I reread books (and especially listen to music repeatedly) all the time, whereas I almost never do that with video games; why is that?

First, a spot check: is that actually true? Looking at the current list of the last fifty books I’ve read, I only see five that I’d read before. If that’s a representative sample, I’m only rereading books 10 percent of the time; seems a bit low to me, but who knows.

Still, I’m sure that’s higher than my percentage for video games. Or is it? Looking at the corresponding list there (only 25 items long), I don’t see any games I’d played before, but I’m pretty sure I dipped into two other games in that period. Having said that, “dipped into” is the right phrase: I didn’t finish either of them, or even play them for more than a few minutes at a time, which is a rather different thing.

What’s going on here? Part of it is that familiar works of art are like comfort food for me; that’s the reason why I recently reread The Dark is Rising, for example. And comfort food is probably most needed in small doses, or at least in smaller doses than your typical video game. (I’m sure that’s a big reason why I listen to old music frequently, and of course an album is a good deal shorter even than a typical book.)

Or sometimes I revisit books because they’re important to me. I’m not sure how that ties in with video games; several video games are quite important to me, but not quite in the same way that, say, my favorite nonfiction books are. I think there is a genuine difference there; I also think that, in some sense, it’s a sign that I haven’t been taking games seriously enough, to try and find what I could learn from repeatedly playing through them.

I’m pretty sure that a big factor, though, is being swept along by the tide: if everybody and his dog is talking about a game at launch and if I genuinely think that it’s a game I’d enjoy, then the idea that I should play it sticks in my head unduly. So while it’s unlikely that I’ll play it at launch (because of time constraints), it gets stuck in a queue in my head. And it’s probably worth making a conscious effort to try to fight that.

Sometimes, when I notice my reading habits go out of whack, I put myself on cycles for the books that I can read. (Though, retrospect, that may have been a sign of bad inventory management more than anything else; I haven’t felt a desire to do so since I fixed that.) Maybe I should try the same with games? Play on a four-game cycle: new, old but new to me, new, old friend? (Where “new” means “released within the last year and a half”, say.) I’m not sure if I’m going to do exactly that, but I really should find some time to replay an old friend or two.

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