Myself and Owlsensei cheering after a Monster Hunter victory!

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.

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