Saving the Game: No Really, Just Let Me Stop Playing Now

I remember the first time I ever played No More Heroes, one of the Wii’s richest experiences. I had been coasting along wonderfully, partaking in numerous side jobs in order to fund my next ranking battle, and taking in the delectable art style and quirky personality of the game. However, it was rapidly nearing 3 AM, and I needed to hurry to bed in order to wake up at a decent hour the next day. A simple query: how do I save the game? I had assumed from the onset that there had been some autosaves since beginning the title–I hadn’t seen any save points until then. Gaming instinct told me to consult the manual. This was fruitless, seeing as there was no information about saving given within. I didn’t want to leave the Wii on overnight, and my eyes were getting relatively heavy. With that, I switched the Wii off in earnest, believing I would wake up to an auto-save the next day.

Of course, I didn’t. There was no save file present. It wasn’t until speaking to a good friend of mine who had already conquered the title that there were save points sprinkled throughout, most notably in Travis Touchdown’s motel room. I was initially neutral about the whole thing, but I got to thinking–I had lost 2 hours of play. The thought soured my experience of the game, and I didn’t really feel like going back and doing all of what I had just completed again. Perhaps if the game had provided an explanation of when, where, or how to save either in a tutorial or in the manual, I wouldn’t have been in that predicament.

Saving games has become a bit of a hit-or-miss in modern gaming. While we have some games that allow for on-the-spot saving such as Pok√©mon X & Y (though you have to be careful right now, hilariously enough) or a cavalcade of others, many games have adopted the mindset that you are allowed to save your progress when the developers say you should be. Gaming has evolved so far beyond the days of level passwords and restarts until you complete the entire title that it’s hard to complain about the ability to save at all. Games have become such complex platforms of storytelling and visceral experiences that it’s ludicrous to expect someone to sit on the couch and complete a 40-60 hour title without turning off the console or experiencing real life.

The save point is still widely used, but has been abused in a number of ways since its inception. Notably, in Dead Rising, players were expected to trek all the way to save points scattered throughout Paradise Plaza. Since it’s considered to be a difficult game, dying is often expected. However, when you are faced with an entire mall crawling with the undead, it’s not always feasible to double back to a central location just to save. This isn’t the only fault with its confusing save system, though. When Frank dies you are presented with the option to either load your last save, or “save status and quit.” Aside from being hilariously unclear, the latter means that you will actually quit the game and restart from the beginning. The only upside is that you will keep experience and items earned from where you left off. In theory, this could be a good strategy for completing the game at a more brisk pace, but for those new to the game it’s much more than a small annoyance since the game does never fully explain your options. This seems more like a punishment for wanting to quit playing than an aid to keep gaming convenient.

The most common save model these days is a checkpoint that autosaves your progress up until then, or the “complete a level, then ask to save” procedure. Both are prevalent in a variety of titles. The “just one more level” mentality is also still alive and kicking. Many modern FPSs prove this theory. Aside from handing out checkpoints throughout the level as seen in Halo, Gears of War, and Call of Duty, when a level is completed the game will automatically save. While this type of saving does work well, it’s adding fuel to the gaming addiction fire. People just don’t know when to quit, and being forced to continue playing until the next checkpoint is impractical. It’s also detrimental to the busy gamer. Since not everyone has hours and hours a day to devote to finishing a title, it’s unfair to expect that someone achieve a standard set by the game developer before being allowed to save. While it can be argued that this adds a dimension of challenge to a game that might otherwise be considered simple, it’s also unfairly expecting others to work around the game and its expectations rather than what life holds.

It’s inconvenient to be expected to complete an entire level or finish off a menacing boss before you can be allowed to switch your console off. Think of the newbies to video games–each small step they make is an achievement to them. It can be a bit of a turn-off when they make a bit of progress, die, and are expected to restart at the very beginning. Gaming is my passion, but it’s also a hobby. While I devote as much time to completing titles as I can, there just isn’t room in my schedule to backtrack and finish parts I have already completed just because a game didn’t tell me it didn’t save, or because my data was corrupted.

I’m not asking for gaming to dumb itself down and allow for saving at every second. But would it really be too much to ask for a saving system that was explained at the onset of a game so you would know what you’re getting into? To accommodate those who are gaming and trying to hold down a full-time job as well as real-life obligations, for the love of the game, people–just let us save!