It’s a dangerous thing to be attached to a game.
Settle down now, kids, and let grampy tell you a story.
Back in my day, games didn’t come in this digital copy, direct download horse-hockey. Oh no, that’s so easy. We had to buy discs in jewel cases in the era of the PlayStation One. But thems there discs were sometimes rare, like if it was only released in Japan or somefin’, and oh my, those discs and those jewel cases were some mighty fra-jee-lay things. If you broke or scratched one, you did your best to fix it up nice by rubbing some toothpaste on the scratch or skip past the glitched up sections that jump like a scared cat or, in the worst case, you go to a garage sale down the street or the bargain buy bin at Blockbuster and try to find a new one for a couple bucks.
But when the worst happens – when you lose your save game file – now that’s a whole ‘nother thing entirely.
Why, I remember being but knee-high to a grasshopper, a wee young lass with bright eyes and an even brighter view on life. The year was 1999. I was eight years old and in what I hoped would be my first real long-term game relationship (‘course, I didn’t have the words for it then, being so young). It was Final Fantasy VIII, I think – or maybe it was Parasite Eve, actually; I’ve blocked it out so I don’t remember properly. Anyway, though, I was playing the game the best that an eight-year-old can – meaning, I was copying from my dad’s save game file, playing my own progress, and then saving a new file, not realizing I was missing some big chunks of the story – and having a grand old time when, one day, it just didn’t work any more.
I’m not sure what happened. I’m not sure if my dad accidentally erased my file, or if the memory card corrupted in some way, but it was just gone when I came home from a long hard day in the third grade. Zilch. Gone. A mocking blue screen that said [EMPTY] [EMPTY] [EMPTY]. Nothing there.
THE HORROR. THE HORROR. the horror.
I was wrecked. I cried and cried and cried. I was wrecked, too, when I lost my file of The Walking Dead, though there were fewer tears and more well-chosen expletives. Some choices…some choices you just can’t get back, kids. I’ve become jaded in my years; something broke in me, too, on that day that the memory card did. No wonder I was goth in high school.
Now, let me tell you, this is different than when you get a game over having not saved in a while, back in those days before auto-saving was a widespread technology and if your character died or your house got hit with a sudden power outage and all the stuff turned off and you had to play potentially hours over again. Oh, my children, no. You get a game over, a lot of it is probably your fault somehow. You didn’t level up enough before fighting a boss, or maybe you foolishly forgot to stock up on potions in the last town, or you just mistimed that jump. It’s frustrating, but ultimately, you were at least part of the reason why you had to play that part again. It’s your penance. Gentle listeners, I’ve spent so long replaying through stories because I was dumb about fighting bosses without saving. It’s just part of the course, or par for the course, or barf for the course, or whatever that saying is.
And if the power goes out, well, you still only have to go through another few hours at most. Maybe those hours are grueling, and that doesn’t invalidate what you’re feeling or the fact that you might have just thrown your controller across the room, but not all hope is lost, assuming the power surge doesn’t wreck your console.
But when your save file deletes or corrupts, you’re usually left with nothin’. The corruption of the game file is unforgiving as the black horns of the devil himself. It has no sympathy, or no empathy, whichever one is appropriate in this context. That black abyss of game permadeath – for that is might as well what might have been, the death of a file and all of your time invested in’t – stares you in the face and takes away your heart without even breaking eye contact, and it leaves you broken and crumpled in front of your screen. It’s like a game over for your soul. You can’t really go back from that. It’ll never be the same.
I tried playing Final Fantasy VIII again at some point – assuming that is, in fact, the game I lost – a couple of summers ago in the in-between of two years of college. The game was more or less new to me again at that point, having been over a decade since I lost my soul and decided against my then-resolution of naming my first child Quistis (though I did want to name a cat Squall briefly). But it was a halfhearted attempt, a cursed attempt. I was spoiled against it already from that childhood experience…well, that and the internet telling me it was the worst of the series, too. I made it about 11 hours in and lost interest. The reasons are many and variable. I can’t claim to know which ones drove it home. It was never meant to be.
The Walking Dead, too, is insurmountable when you’ve gotten most of the way through a chapter and the game is lost. It feels impossible when it comes to games that lead you to believe your choices affect the entire progression of the story. It’s not the same when you have to wrench your guts in the lesser of two evils in a few short seconds. It feels hollow with this game in particular when you already know what’s going to happen. My gut wrenched and my heart dropped when I realized the file was gone. For whatever reason, my progress didn’t save to the cloud. I knew it was over before I started my second play through. Call it fixed mindset, if ya will.
Choosing to replay a game from the start just because you want to start over – whether to revisit an old friend or because you’re so far in that you’ve become aware of just how poor some of your leveling choices were – is a different beast than having to do so because the other one doesn’t exist any longer. It’s a dangerous thing to be attached to a game. It’s a dangerous thing to be attached to characters and stories, and somehow it feels different than when you’re attached to a book character who dies (rest in peace, Fred Weasley). Unlike the separate author of the story book, or even the separate author of the game’s narrative, when you’re embroiled in battles and quests their fate rests, quite literally, in your hands. When the game file is somehow erased, it feels like your fate was in theirs, too.
This post was inspired by a comment on my previous post, “On Being Behind The Times.” Thanks, Sammie!