Will gamers ever get over F5 anxiety?

The quicksave is pervasive in PC games. It exists on the console as well, but there it is better classified as a frequent-and-laborious-trip-to-the-menu save. G. Christopher Williams at Pixels or Death examines this panacea for challenge and contrasts it with the mechanics found in Jordan Mechner’s games.

Mechner is the creator behind The Last Express and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, both of which allow the player control over time. For an action game like SoT, the rewind feature allows for daring and badass experimentation because a failure is easily rolled back. It always reminded me of a tennis serve: the first one is where you try to be like Pete Sampras, the second is where you have to to play within the lines.

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This feature is not only helpful for a sword-wielding, wall-running action game, it benefits platformers like Braid as well. When a player  fails one of the challenging jumps, rather than being brought back to an arbitrary moment, the game lets you rewind to right before your death (or further if you would like). This lets you make the smallest tweak to your previous strategy merely seconds after failing, allowing you to use that failure as a marker for how to do that segment differently. This is a boon for those difficult platforming moments (much like SoT), but there is more to this feature than that. Braid is a puzzler in addition to a platformer, so if you want to be taken back to a specific moment in time during your 10 minute attempt at a puzzle (before you gloriously messed it up and wasted all that time), Braid lets you do that. It allows you to focus your efforts on the difficult and unsolved aspects of a puzzle, not the ones you have already completed. 

Williams also explores the tenacity of the quicksave and its presence in Dishonored:

In some sense, my experience of playing Dishonored has created in me a sense of the very, very retrograde.

Because Dishonored is a first person stealth game, not a shooter, it requires the kind of “no mistakes” efficiency of older titles, but even more so. Getting spotted by a guard usually results in a larger group of guards descending en masse on your position. While certainly Dishonored allows for the option of fighting them all, the spirit of the game seems to encourage a more efficient assassin than that, one that can prowl rooms and pick off the opposition one by one. To really “get it right,” I have found myself following the advice found on one of the load screens in the game, “Remember to Save Often” (and this message makes me further think that “getting it right” incrementally by using saves to my advantage really is in the spirit of the game’s designers’ intent).

I find myself spending more time in some instances saving and reloading, saving and reloading, than in playing the game proper. I may have turned a 15-hour game into a 20-hour game or even a 25-hour game just by sheer insistence on using saves to my best advantage.

The quicksave is not a response to the laziness or failure of players; if anything, it encourages it. Some games will bury a save feature deep in menus that take time to access, creating a metagame barrier for your metagame strategies. This is a solution, but it’s just treating the symptom. The focus should not be to remove player-controlled saving outright. The important thing is to make games that let you dive into a game without the anxiety of leaving F5 untouched.