Overscan: Not Everything is Worth Saving

Overscan is a chance for one of our writers to throw in their two cents on a topic the other has recently written about.

Trying to propose ideas for Ben’s save article yesterday was interesting, because I proved fairly useless- my ideas for where to take the article were not things he felt strongly about, and in a few cases he downright disagreed. Of course, our early gaming lives were pretty different, and just as going Saveless on the Sixty-Four shaped his opinions, an introduction to gaming through emulation and the anywhere, anytime “slot save” functionality gave me a very different opinion on the matter.

Even as a youngster, I could see how the ability to save literally any time- even mid-cutscene if I wished- broke the game design of the titles I was playing. I remember accidentally saving in Metal Slug right as a bullet was about to hit me. I spent twenty minutes loading that save over and over to see how I would have to move- not just to dodge that bullet, but the six other that were on their way in the bullet hell-esque boss. It was kind of fun, in a way, but it ultimately cheapened the boss fight for me, removing the satisfaction of victory. Saves were important, but they were a part of the design. Being able to save in ways the game wasn’t designed for was enough to ruin the experience.

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Thereafter I got my first console, the PlayStation 2. The Memory Card phenomenon seemed bizarre to me, so I started without one, but it was a mere two days before we corrected that mistake. With this came new revelations about saves. I did appreciate systems like save points that made sure you couldn’t save anytime, because I’d already discovered that could ruin things. The limited slots, however, combined with the fact that most games defaulted to saving over the most recent save, proved a horrifying combination. The number of times I accidentally overwrote my sister’s save in haste and carelessness makes me wince to this day.

At one point, I thoughtlessly mashed X, only to save over the Final Fantasy X save my sister had worked on for dozens of hours, right before the final boss.  Appalled, I tried to make good in my own naive way, hoping that I could start a new file and play up to where she had been. I knew that she always used default names for her characters (unlike myself), and that she didn’t play very often, so I had the deluded hope that I would fix the problem before she even noticed. Obviously, I failed- even setting aside the hours involved, even in a game as linear as FFX there are so many variables that it would be impossible to recreate her save.

Losing a save can be an inspiring thing, but it can also destroy any motivation to ever play a game again. I don’t think my sister ever picked FFX back up after my boneheaded mistake, and ill-conceived attempt at a make good. Ten years later, long after we both moved away from home, I finally brought myself to delete the Dark Cloud 2 save I’d been holding on to in case she ever wanted to come back to it. For my own part, I thought I would never play Persona 3 Portable again after getting my Vita- my save was on PSP, and I didn’t have the motivation to dig that thing out for one game. Later discovering a way to transfer the save to my Vita revitalized my interest in the game.

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For me, saves are more than just a way to continue. They are a legacy, a chronicle of the time I’ve spent. I don’t delete saves of games I’ve beaten, or even games I don’t think I’ll come back to. I have no need to hold on to extra copies- at this point, I’m not really worried about saving over and losing them. I just want the record of the journeys I’ve been on, the journal of the worlds I’ve explored. I entertain the idea that I’ll come back to them at some point, but even if I don’t, I love just having them there. A digital library cataloguing my adventures, right there on my hard drive.

It’s even more satisfying when the games themselves consider saves to be more than mere data. Titles like The Walking Dead, Mass Effect, and .hack carry your save from one game to the next in a serial fashion. They treat your choices as important to the arc of the series, which I find incredibly rewarding. It’s possible to falsify these saves, for certain, but it would take a great deal to ever inspire me to do so. I understand folks who lost their save going from one game to the next, or are switching platforms, and I don’t condemn them for modifying their save, but it feels like living a lie to me. Silly as it may seem, these saves are more than just clumps of data to me, and to fake them would be faking my whole story. At that point, why not just boot up Cheat Engine and godmode through the game? No, if I was in a position to use it, I’d either play the other game again for a new save, or give it up. Either I care enough about my choices to carry them over, or I don’t, and that’s on me.

In a way, it’s not very different from achievements and trophies. After all, those are just saves pushed to a public server. You can’t continue from achievement data, it won’t resume your progress in a game, but anyone who cares to look can see the digital lands you’ve conquered, and a list of the feats of valor you’ve accomplished within them. I have flipped through my own trophies more than a couple of times- not for bragging rights or inflation of my ego, but as a scrapbook, each icon and description conjuring up memories of time spent. My memory has always required a little help to be at its best, but when triggered by something that reminds me of the past, I can be an almost excessively nostalgic creature. I smile wistfully in memory of the successes, chuckle at the failures, and leave hopeful for the future.

How could look at a list of dozens, perhaps hundreds of conquered worlds and not feel optimistic? What challenge can you face that compares to Dark Souls’s Blighttown, or Street Fighter IV’s Seth? While the real world can make us feel weak and helpless sometimes, video games can make us feel like kings, and that’s all the confidence we need. The challenges life places will fall before a little tenacity and a little help, as long as we have the courage to try. So I say don’t delete your save- look back at it with fondness, remember what it was like to be a hero, and bring it with you in your daily life. A little confidence goes a long way.