Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Confession: I Save Scum Too Often

I am a perfectionist when it comes to gaming.

If the absolute best situation can be achieved on an RPG or strategy game, I will work to make that happen. If I lose something that I could have kept in a game, or had a negative impact that I could have turned into a positive one, or could have saved someone if I did something differently; I cannot let it go. I am finding it more and more prevalent in my playthroughs lately.

X-Com: Enemy Unknown is a PC strategy game where every single decision you make can change the outcome of a situation. Do I prioritize building a new facility or building a new aircraft for air defense? Do I flank the enemy from unknown territory or do I double back and hold fast. One wrong move, and you could end up losing an entire squad or wasting time on a project that will provide little benefit.

The hitch to all this? The game autosaves after every move and I found myself reloading when things went wrong.
"It's like our commander knows something we don't..."

If a squad mate died by moving in on the enemy too soon or uncovered a more formidable enemy group that I was not prepared for, I found myself clicking that "Load Game" button to erase any error I may have caused. If my Interceptor failed to shoot down a UFO, when I could have used a Dodge consumable to take it down, I would go back to correct my error. I was a time traveling commander, capable of seeing the future and working a path to alter that future. No soldier should die. No mistakes should be made. Only after hours into the game did I stop and realize;

This is not how this is meant to be played, and I do this far too often.

I am living out the movie Live.Die.Repeat with every game I play. I was dying, starting over, moving to fix the problem, and slowing piecing together the optimum path.

Even in Fallout 4, a game fraught with open ended dialogue and missions that can have multiple outcomes, I found myself reloading a game if I failed to persuade or failed to save certain NPCs. I had in my mind the ideal outcome, and if my character failed to make that come to fruition than it was all for naught.

Turns out there is a term for people that do this; save scummers. It is debated that this is, in fact, cheating. You are changing the outcome of how something would have turned out with a few button presses. It is not invincibility, it is not the ability to glitch through walls, but it is a cheat nonetheless. You have flipped ahead to the page from your choose your own adventure book, but flipped back because you held your finger on the previous page and never took it off.

Negotiation...Dr. Who style

Why was I doing this so much lately? Are constant checkpoints littered throughout most major games spoiling me to the point of becoming accustomed to retrying a part over and over again? Is my OCD for everything to go correctly so bad that it had transferred to my favorite games as well?

No more, I told myself. Never again.

When I finally accepted this fact, I started a new game on X-Com, but this time I enabled Ironman mode, which prevents multiple saves and forces you to one file permanently. It was the anti-save scum and it is what I needed, because the game became an even more of an enjoyable experience. I was learning how to move throughout the fog of war, what items to prioritize in development, and how to be a better commander through my mistakes. This was the game as it was meant to be experienced, one of loss and frustration, but one in which victory was that much sweeter.

Nothing will be perfect the first time around, and striving to create those perfect scenarios to play out exactly as planned just takes away from the joy of playing altogether. Now I find myself analyzing those failures, looking at a list of dead soldiers and countries that left the X-Com project and vowing to do better next time.

While games like Dark Souls offer knowledge through failure by rinsing and repeating, it took X-Com to give me the ability to let things go.

Monday, March 7, 2016

To My Grandmother

I was a kid in elementary school when all of my friends began to get into a little game called Pokemon. It was in every issue of Nintendo Power, it was slammed in your face during cartoons, and it was getting bigger every day. Envious, I watched my friends playing this game on the way to school and brag about their latest catch at lunch. Sadly, my birthday was a long way off and Christmas was even farther.  I felt I would never get to play during the "hot streak" of its time, in that small one month window when everyone is just getting into the game itself.

On a trip to my Grandmother's house one weekend, I remember bragging about the game to her. I went over the different things you could do, showing her the game cover in the magazine, and the awesome world that you could explore. It was obviously pandering and she knew it, but she feigned interest nonetheless. My dad was quick to shut it down, as he should have, and I thought nothing of it.

A few days later there was a package in the mail addressed to myself and my brother. In his package, a brand new copy of Pokemon Blue. In mine, Pokemon Red.

I was in absolute shock. Here was this game I was yearning to play, and in that knowledge my Grandmother shelled out the sixty or so dollars so my brother and I would get to be a part of the hype. She was not a rich woman by any means, this obviously meant she had sacrificed something to bring this game to us.

I was on the phone, elated, and thanking her over and over again ignoring sentence structure and rambling off every synonym of thanks I could conjure. She laughed and said she hoped I enjoyed it before I slammed in fresh batteries and darted off to play.

I played that game all weekend. Curled up on a couch near a lamp I was catching new Pokemon, defeating each gym leader, and indulging in what would become the first game in one of the biggest franchises in video game history.

It was all thanks to her.

I reflected on that this past holiday, as I sat with her and shared that same laugh with my wife at my side.

I valued it more a week later, when I got a call that on Christmas Eve she had been rushed to the hospital with the signs of a stroke.

I held it close, as I received update after update of extended family arguing over what she would have wanted, as she was put on a ventilator with no acting will.

I cherish it, as I got the news that she was taken off of that ventilator today, and passed away shortly after its removal.

She did not just want to buy me something to spoil me back then, it was not an attempt to gain favor, a gesture expecting repayment. Instead, it was an encouragement. An encouragement to the imagination, the excitement that I held as a kid. She saw how much a simple video game could spark in a kid just by my small description and response that one weekend, and she wanted to keep that alive.

She succeeded in helping keep that alive.

I could go through a number of situations in which her selflessness was showcased, be it the expectant birthday card every single year even when she could barely write her name, to the huge smile that would greet me every holiday visit. A kindness that I would attempt to repay with my own cards and gifts to brighten her day.

I felt compelled to write something, anything concrete to her. A dedication of sorts; a thank you. For the years of unwavering generosity, infectious joy, and the ability to keep one grandchilds' dreams fueled with a simple act that would resonate for years to come.