Annuals or perennials—one of the most fundamental choices facing anyone who wants to start a garden.
So-called annual plants have a short life cycle. We sow them, they grow, bloom, produce new seeds, and then die at the end of the season.
Perennial plants, on the other hand, live for several seasons. No need to sow them again, they grow back every year on their own and keep developing.
Question: Why opt for short-lived plants that must be resown each year, when we could just put perennials in the ground once and for all and enjoy them for years?
Answer: the blooming. Most annuals may have a short lifespan, but they are constantly in bloom, while most perennials only bloom for a few weeks each year. What perennials offer in duration, annuals offer in intensity.
I came to think about gardening—of all things—while pondering a phrase that’s quite popular in the gaming world, the Cult of the New. I was wondering what kind of “new” was involved here—is there even more than one type of novelty for games, and if so, what sets them apart?
Well, I would argue that there is at least two different ways for games to be new. The novelty of some games wears off and needs to be repeated, while that of other games endures and needs to be cultivated. Thus the garden of our game collection will be variously composed of “annual” and “perennial” games.
Annuals are single-use games. Games that tell a story and die when that story is over. They are only new once. The only way to renew or extend the experience is to renew or extend the games themselves. The newness offered by narrative games, collectible card games or legacy games is relatively short, yet rich and intense.
Perennial games are much more modest in that regard. Their newness is brief, delicate and more demanding, even fussy; but it constantly regenerates. They have a much longer life, they never quite leave us. Abstract games, Euro-style, more mechanical games, or historical games renew themselves on their own, on every play. They keep bouncing back, whether after years of continuous practice or total neglect. We never make it through them.
Both forms of newness do have their place in any game collection.
The newness I prefer is the one that carries on, the one we continually uncover, in every corner of every session, every interaction, every decision; the newness that begs to get developed and cultivated through replay.
And my favorite games are the ones that remain new to me for a long time. Games that can produce their own newness.
Perennial, inexhaustible games.
Not that all that matters much; to each his own, and gamers decide the proportion of annuals and perennials they want to keep in their collection. More important, however, is to realize that a game’s novelty has nothing to do with its release date, with its age. A recent game is not necessarily new, and certainly a fresh, new game is not necessarily recent.
And there lies the trap behind the expression Cult of the New: it can easily lead us to confuse novelty with mere recentness.
I believe that, be it annual or perennial, every gamer worth his salt craves freshness and does worship the new.
Which is totally different from the obsessive need to jump blindly on each and every game coming out, buy them and play them once, hopefully before everybody else—just because they’re the latest and hottest—all the while despising any game older than a few months.
Because this compulsive behavior is neither a cult, nor to the new.
It’s simple addiction.