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.

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