So Here’s The Thing: Save Your Game
Game critics always whine about save systems. I, for one, have always been pissed off when a game doesn’t allow me to save anywhere I want. With all the technological advances the games industry has made, why haven’t developers managed to simply stick an option to do so in? Doom did it, why not Modern Warfare 2?
I mean, why can’t we stop a story whenever we want to? We can do it in film, music, books, and every other medium. Why should games be any different? Why can’t we just stop and save and then go back if we don’t like the outcome of our choices. In choose your own adventure novels we could always go back to page 23 if our choice to open the left door dropped us in a hole. And let me tell you, I was all about going through both of those doors.
However, the more I get to thinking about it, the more I begin to understand the necessity to allow for games to be a continuous experience. I don’t mean this in the sense that games should ignore a save system altogether so you have to play through it in a single setting. I’m talking about games that declare your decisions final by not allowing you to go back to former saves.
For example, I was unaware that I could go back to a former save point in Heavy Rain the first time I rolled through it. That forced me to think about my decisions in a light that I had never really looked at them before. In Fallout 3 or Knights of the Old Republic or Fable, I would usually attempt to save before making any big, game-changing decisions. But in Heavy Rain, I was, due to my own ignorance, forced to deal with whatever decisions or stupid mistakes I made. (I’m really bad at QTE’s. I blame my tiny, baby-like fingers.)
And, to be honest, despite everything that was wrong with that game, and there were a lot of things wrong with it, it gave me one of the more rewarding gaming experiences I’ve had had in a while. Being forced into sticking with your decisions was exhilarating and often terrifying. Having your gameplay mistakes mean more than simply starting from the last checkpoint made every trial wonderfully tense.
Obviously, I could just play every game the way that I unintentionally played Heavy Rain, but the very knowledge that I could just go back to the last autosave makes the decisions that I make much less powerful. I hate to harp on the games vs. literature vs. movies comparison, as that has been stupidly run into the ground by both sides of the argument, but part of the emotional impact that other forms of media comes from the impact that every decision makes.
Events matter everywhere else, so why not in games?
So what I propose is to get rid of the save anywhere function your Fallouts, your BioShocks, your KOTORs. Make the player decisions actually matter. The emotional impact of their stories will increase hugely. We just have to get over our completionist selves. And as someone who loves the hell out of seeing at 100% on their save games, that will be just as hard for me as everyone else.