essay, video games

“[Don’t] play it again, Sam”

In all the cries for meaning in video games, a frequent word has come to the forefront: permanence. Whatever choices I make in the game, whatever actions I take, they should all be part of my personal narrative experience. They should be permanent, says the gamer.

It seems as if an answer to that cry has arisen from an unlikely ally to the cause. Capcom, in their just released game Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, is including a feature where “all mission progress is saved directly to the Nintendo 3DS cartridge, where it cannot be reset” reports Ars Technica via GiantBomb. Permanence is here, at least for this game.

Although “clarified” to GiantBomb, Capcom’s statement said that “Secondhand game sales were not a factor in this development decision”, meaning that development is probably not talking to marketing. This kind of permanence hurts only those that sell or share their game with others. While the first play-through may be pristine, any others playing that same game cart will never get a fresh experience.

More is at risk than just secondhand games, the ability of a game to become “retro” could also affected in that no second playthrough could be attempted. You cannot go back to see that memorable boss battle or beautifully rendered scene. The game has decreed that you are now locked out. While access to areas from your last save is available, you cannot go back to the beginning and try another path. For many role playing games, such a system would be a rude awakening to those who might try several different endings or even beginnings of a game.

Looking even further into the bleak future, a worst case exists in being locked out of content completely. Although not addressed in either article, the threat that the game could very well land itself into a place where the content becomes unplayable due to a bug or glitch that is then saved permanently to the cartridge is real. In my own personal experiences, I have had game saves glitch leaving them unusable. It would be catastrophic to the experience — maybe even ending my play with it — if the game glitches during a save and permanently locked me out of the game. That kind of permanence is not what those who cry for meaning want. But it might well be both the outcome and the cost of a personal, unique narrative experience.