Back where I started

It is 1998, a pile of grey plastic cartridges lies on the floor in front of me. Today, I have two hours of TV-time that I wanna spend with gaming and I try to decide. I have played them all, completed them to the end. The worlds I can choose from are familiar. I choose Wave Race 64, delete all saved progress and start from scratch.

Holy Shiza Minelli, deleting save files? Resetting hard-earned victories, scores, unlocked content? Are you sure? This action cannot be undone. Everything not saved will be lost.

“Vanilla” is what I call the state where everything is reset. I wonder sometimes, why I do this with a racing game like Wave Race 64 in particular. After the reset I cannot go for the hardest championship, have to start in the beginner’s class. Every other completed lap I hear a satisfying “bing” because I score new lap records while I am at it. No wonder, when there are no real high scores from before. The first, easier modes I sleepwalk through, my challenge lies more and more in the perfection of my play.

All that feels like a hybrid of nostalgia over my first steps in the game and the mastery of the game through hours and hours of experience. Sometimes, this process develops such a dynamic that its momentum easily carries me beyond former limits. My past self looks up to me and asks who I was. I reply: “I am you, but stronger“.

And then, there is the story. No, Wave Race 64 does not offer an extensive story, how could it. But I do have one: The story of my own hero’s journey, from noob to pro, a story of failing and succeeding, of a virtual world and its conquest. Only the full reset lets me relive that journey, at least partially.

Some games provide more of that replay value than others. Sport, racing and puzzle games are more predestined to do so because their core works partially systemically and is able to create new and unique situations by design. Sure, that also has limits. Even the most clever AI might become foreseeable and at some point once unusual situations are merely déjà vus. Albeit that is only true for finite single player games and if we ignore the spectrum of achievements and challenge runs. The latter keep even thirty years old games young, without DLC or updates.

Those who cannot be asked to master a game to perfection but still want to spend more time with it are in luck nowadays. Even story driven games borrow a lot from systemic approaches and shine with diversion. Also “new game plus”, or in short NG+, is to be found in many popular titles as a main-game-variation-after-the-playthrough mode. The number of hours one can put into an average game has not become less over the last years. In RPGs it is even common practice to start over with a new character “build” in order to discover the unexplored facets of the game. For that, one has to start from scratch—in uncanny similarity to the idea of deleting save files.

To begin anew, to read a book one more time or to rewatch a movie is not too uncommon. It is joy for the sake of enjoyment. It only seems that things repeat themselves, because the perspective has shifted. The eyes are wide open and still greedy. Sometimes there is only more to discover when I let the former discoveries disappear. A part of me back then also wished for letting my former experience with the game disappear. Just to feel those first few, insecure steps in the game all over again. To be an empty vessel again and to suck it all in. To really be back where I started.

Wave Race 64 was 1996 one of the first titles for the newly released Nintendo 64. The franchise started on the Game Boy as a racer with Micro-Machines-like gameplay. On Nintendo’s first 3D-machine it demonstrated impressive next gen graphic including water physics and surprisingly deep mechanics. Its successor Wave Race: Blue Storm was released for the GameCube, pleased fans and critiques but was not hitting as big as its prequel. 2018 a statement in an interview with Wave Race producer Shinya Takahashi grew big expectations for a possible Wave Race for the Nintendo Switch. So far, those expectations is all there is.

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