Memories lost: the fear of saving

In my experience the most terrifying games aren’t survival horrors, they’re moments of gaming that tamper with something that we all rely on, the ability to save.

All of my most horrible gaming experiences have involved losing or almost losing save files, because anything that puts this fail-safe in doubt means the loss of my most precious commodity; time.

Taking an experience from sweet to sour

As gamers we rely on the ability to save like never before, it’s a relatively recent invention in the scheme of things, but a crucial one for most of us as we become older with less time to play. We can no longer sink days into mastering a game like we used to. We rely on saving often for minimizing risk, preparing for a gameplay gamble, or even just to stop and take a break.

Because of this we forget how special the ability to stop and save really is – that is until it’s gone – either by a game sidestepping the normal saving convention, or because of something more sinister.

I equate the loss of a save file or storage device to losing a version of your gaming memories, those treasured snapshots of a favourite game that you worked extremely hard for. They are one of the few physical bits of evidence of beloved gaming experiences, giving us the ability to return to or archive our adventures.

If an important save is lost, challenging experiences can always be repeated but nothing will replace that initial experience with the game. The triumphs and struggles either with others (or alone) that lead to landmark gaming memories, the complicated thrill of completing the hardest challenges, finishing every quest, or exploring every corner of a world. For our favourite games starting over isn’t an option – that experience will never be the same again, the memories will always be tarnished by that first loss and the idea of what might have been.

And every new loss or almost loss opens the wounds on all the saved games you lost before – how much further could that character have gone, or your passion for a brilliant gaming experience soared for that much longer if you didn’t lose it all?

Walk away or start over?

The next very hard decision is about building up the energy to start over by returning to the difficult moments of a beloved experience that you never thought you’d need to go again. Whether or not this decision is made depends entirely on the game – some experiences are shallow and as such can be happily lost. Others are so enjoyable that the chance to start over with a fresh perspective is a welcome one.

One thing is certain though; for better or worse that second attempt at a game, particulary after losing everything you had invested in it first time around is never comparable to that first unabated play.

Looking past that detail, could our fixation with keeping save files be mere sentimentality? This could well be true if the game has been completed many years ago with all but the most memorable moments washed away over time. There can’t be that many games that we still need that save file for five, six or even ten years down the line as that partially undermines the need to replay them. We often treasure our memory card contents like we treasure achievements; they are the written record of our pastime regardless of how infrequently we get to show these results off.

Mourning the loss of a treasured save file is of course something that’s difficult to explain to someone that hasn’t put the emotional and physical investment in, it seems like an irrational reaction to something quite petty. This is a well-known situation for the years before memory cards and hard drives when on-cartridge saving was the norm. Losing a hard-earned save file can be particularly hurtful when lost by someone who doesn’t fully understand their folly – such as the innocent need of a new save for their playthrough – how heartbreaking to explain.

Too close for comfort

This was an ode to my 240 hour Monster Hunter Freedom Unite file that was almost lost this week during an epic Lao Shan Lung battle. Dedicated to my stoic yet heroic best friend and Monster Hunter teammate Owlsensei who kept me sane while I waited through those awful moments for my save file to be okay.

14 replies on “Memories lost: the fear of saving”

I know what you mean. Most most recent occurrence was when I upgraded to Windows 7 and did a fresh re-format to do so (by choice). I lost my 40+ hours of Dragon Age and have to start over AGAIN on Borderlands (switched from a rented 360 copy to the PC version when it was on a Steam sale). I completely forgot to back up my save games. It was my own fault, but made me really appreciate games like Torchlight that have cloud support for your save games. I wish all Steam games used that.

I have saves on my old Playstation memory cards that are older than 10 years old. Lol, I feel pathetic. You know what the worst game was for losing your saved data (and how easy it was to happen)? Classic PSO. I can’t remember how many times I had to restart a character because of some fluke even that erased my data.

*snugs* You know I’m always there to back you up dear~ I supply more then just cups of coffee~ Gah, we do take things like hard-drives and memory cards for granted. I remember when I lost all my PSO data. I was THIS close to crying. Hm, that’s something we should pick up again one day. Take care dear.

This happened to me with Pokemon back on the old Gameboy. I was horrified. HORRIFIED.

As far as sentimentality goes, I think accidentally deleting or overwriting a save is much more about the loss of progress made than the loss of some kind of personal artifact–I have a similar reaction when I lose a Word document through some blip or other, and that’s usually worse. All that spent time gone down the sinkhole. But there is still something personal about that achievement. And being a complete hoarder of everything, I have some very old memory cards that I refuse to delete the contents of to make space for new things, even though at this point I’d never go back and just pick up where I left off. That’s history right there.

@Jonah That’s a horrible loss. But in general console manufacturers should make it easier to backup our save files, it would have helped you in this instance but I’d love to be able to back lots on my memory card and hard drive saves like I do with everything else.

@Candi Yes, the memories of all my lost PSO characters kept flooding back, the ones lost during dropped controllers, the ones lost by people hacking and the NOL character hacks. Sadtimes.

@Tincampy Thanks again dearest, I was thinking you know, now you have a new router the PC version of Blue Burst might work again, let’s try it out I still have our old accounts.

@CJ I lost my greatest ever Pokemon save when someone stole my Gameboy colour, it had irreplaceable event Pokemon from the Nintendo center in New York on it, maybe that’s why I could never stomach a Pokemon game after that, I feel your pain. I too have an entire draw full of memory cards for just about every console save I’ve ever done, it’s weird but I can’t bring myself to wipe any of them.

It’s a lovely thought and post, Michelle, but it’s for exactly the final paragraph that I’m so glad this is a convention that gaming has done away with. There is something really wonderful about being able to switch the modern game off, go away, turn it back on, and just be where you were with no questions asked or demands made. To me, that’s actually more magical or special than the hours of investment that go into a save file, and that comes from someone who’s plunged over 50 hours into several Final Fantasy games! I realise I’m missing the point a litle here, but hey, someone has to.

The last time I lost a save file must have been with Bayonetta – I’d completed it twice on two of the difficulty modes and wanted to try a third run, but the means to do so is quite awkward; in order to retry a completed chapter on a certain difficulty, you have to load your save, go through to Chapter Select, select the chapter you’re after, adjust the difficulty in a submenu, then play. Not, as I thought, hit New Game, choose a new difficulty, and expect all the things from your play history to carry over. Misinformation is a pain…

Back on topic though, I do acknowledge how precious save files can be – when I’ve sold on PSOne and DC memory units I’ve been reluctant to throw away my Gran Turismo career or Soul Calibur art card collection, not to mention cartridge backups on Nintendo handhelds…

to this day I have still never finished FFVII because of how many times I’ve had to start the game over after losing my save. I’ve played the first disc many more times than I care to mention and unless it ever finally gets remade (i don’t really care if it does or doesn’t) I don’t think I can bare to start over yet again.

shaolinjesus, I know the feeling – the save game loss that still pains me the most is when I lost 100+ hours on the original Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System. The battery backup in the cart didn’t completely die, just fritzed enough to wipe my data, so I was at least able to start again, but I couldn’t even look at the game for a good six months before I contemplated the restart. I doubt if I lost something now it would still hurt as much almost 20 years on!

Fantastic post and really emphasises that the ability to save is something a lot of gamers take for granted. I may be young, but I remember the days when the only way to reach Bowser was to spend a day locked away in your room, and if you were called for dinner, it was back to World 1 for you.

I think another reason why games have become so precious to us is because we become more invested in our characters and their achievements – certainly now that games and their narratives are becoming more and more character-driven.

Through an unfortunate dashboard glitch, I lost two years of 360 saves the week before Mass Effect 2 came out. Was I upset because I’d lost my customised toxic space pistol or level 61 character? No, I was devastated because my Shepard had averted genocide, settled the family traumas of his crew and appointed a mentor to the Citadel council.

Granted, some of those decisions can be defined in Mass Effect 2, but it’s not the same experience because it’s not the same Shepard. Even a quick speedrun that recreated this character makes my new Shepard feel like a pretender to the throne.

Likewise with Dragon Age: Origins, I had poured 30 hours into the tale of a dwarven noble, exiled from his home, stripped of his name and seeking some way to give his life purpose. After becoming so immersed in one story, it feels wrong to start trying to retell it – if anything, trying to recreate it would render the first dwarf less special, as if he is a character that can simply be remanufactured like a replacement action figure, but that

Related to that are deaths that fuck up your save stats. I was desperately trying to burn through Resident Evil 4 on the Wii (I hadn’t played it through on the Wii but a number of times on the PS2) in the odd hour or two snatched when the rest of the house were tucked up in bed and in my rush I made a few cock ups and ended up with a Continue? screen quite far into one of the sections.

Now, I know I’m not going to have time to play through it again to get the elusive S rank so do I continue and end up with a shameful C rank or go back to the last save and waste my precious game time on replaying a section?

I know the answer is, don’t stress out about it dude it’s a game, just enjoy the ride but then a big part of my love of games is completing challenges etc.

@Sinan A fair point, I never expect anyone to completely agree with anything I say, the fact that we can save as more freely than we ever could before it nothing other than a blessing. Just trying to dust off something that might not have been discussed as much as other topics, always appreciate your feedback, thank you.

@James Your second point resonated with me a lot. You’re completely right about the increasing complexity of narratives making it all harder to deal with, but let’s not forget the massive unyielding games of the past too, I can dredge up any number of massive losses from my 8 bit gaming past.

I was lucky enough to be able to carry my original Shepard over and finished ME2 with her, and I was so profoundly effected by that unique experience I had to write about it, you may also like my gaming blue.

@Dan yes it’s a tale almost as old as gaming itself it’s also particularly difficult to start over with a game when the sole save state on the cartridge is your memory of it too. Pretty sure I have two version of some cart games with one original saves intact. 🙁

@Cunzy That gets to the heart of the matter for me too, most of my gaming time is a precious balancing act between knowing when you give up or when to carry on with a perfect run ultimately as long as you’re having fun that’s all that matters. I often get asked why I continue to return to a game that frequently frustrates me – but if I didn’t enjoy the reward for finishing that challenge I wouldn’t be playing it in the first place.

Thank you all for your comments, I had no idea such an innocuous subject would bring back so many brilliant and varied responses.

I’ve got two experiences with this and both involve sports games – which I appreciate are from from any RPG’s but given that I’ve pledged over 70+ hours into FIFA 10 alone, should give you an idea of what they mean to me.

In that same game, my 360 froze and left me numerous hours behind. Of course, given that each game is entirely different, it wasn’t too difficult to brush off and restart. This time with auto-save enabled.

My worst gaming memory was when I inadvertently overwrote my save file for another sports game. This one featured the ability to collect the cards that represented the players from each club from around 5-6 leagues – A grand total of well in excess of 1,000 cards. Whilst trying to back up my save, it was lost. I can’t say how many hours I dedicated to that selection and that fact it was lost when trying to protect it meant that the game had to be returned as I simply could not re-do everything I had once again. I still feel sick thinking about it.

I still think back to my NES Final Fantasy 1 save that was lost when I failed to hold reset when I turned the power off. This was almost 2 decades ago and I still remember the pain.

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