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Confessions Of A Save Scummer

Storytelling

Supporter post

The current game is not saved.
Do you want to save the game before you load another game?

No.

Save scumming is where something happens in a game that you don’t like as a result of your actions, and so you load an earlier save for a chance to undo it. It’s cheating, in other words – and depending on who you ask, mainly cheating yourself.

I can sympathise with that viewpoint. What do games matter if you’re simply going to keep your fingers between the pages and flick back any time you don’t like the consequences? There are a lot of games I love specifically because of the cascading failures your incorrect decisions create – whether it’s losing beloved soldiers in XCOM or dying in a puddle in NEO Scavenger.

But there are other games, too. Games which turn me into the storyteller from Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, where something goes wrong and I think, “Hang on, wait, that’s not right.”

For years, the Championship Manager series was one of those games. You don’t directly control your players during matches, but set up tactics and match plans and then watch the results play out, taking into account your decisions, your opponent’s decisions, and a certain amount of natural random chance.

Just like real world football, the results are therefore occasionally infuriating, with unlikely upsets and freak comebacks. Even if nothing out of the ordinary does happen, it’s often hard to tell how the decisions you made beforehand – to play a 3-4-2-1, or to focus on possession, or to drop your captain – actually affected the outcome. There’s too much happening to trace causality.

In this situation, I can’t help myself. A result goes wrong and I reach for that load game button. Earlier versions of Championship Manager were fine with this, while later editions started forcing you to save before loading – which in turn prompted me to simply start alt-F4ing to force quit the program instead of giving in. Today, in series continuation Football Manager, you’re given the option mentioned above. Do you want to save the game before you load another game? The answer is still, usually, no.

Am I cheating myself? I don’t think so. I don’t even feel like I’m cheating.

When I play games, it’s very rarely about testing my mettle against the machine. I’ve little interest in overcoming prescribed challenges set for me, and even less so overcoming obtuse systems for the mere sake of achieving higher numbers than an opponent. My interest in playing games is mostly for the stories I get out of it; anecdotes I can share with friends, write about on here, or simply tell myself out of a sense of comfort.

When I’m playing Football Manager I’m in cahoots with the game to tell myself a story, and I have a particular story in mind I want to tell. It tends to involve years-long careers spent developing youth teams into international superstars, re-living a youth spent watching Manchester United’s own once youthful, homegrown team. That’s a hard story to tell if you’re being sacked for being rubbish. The incentive is therefore there to wipe away certain losses and to re-play particular games till I massage my tactics into something that works. It doesn’t mean I cut loss away completely – I’ll let the occasional cup final go astray, and allow my side to drop a few league places, so long as the overall narrative remains and I can continue fiddling with the parts of the systems I most enjoy, like scouting and regens.

In the games I play without save scumming – which is all of the others I play, really – I surrender more control to the machine because I trust it more to generate stories that I’ll enjoy. In Football Manager I suspect I’m more likely to be baffled and frustrated.

As an experiment however, I decided in my current Football Manager 2015 career that I wouldn’t save scum. Not even when I got defeated by Luton in the FA Cup and I was Manchester United. Not even when I followed a successful first season (3rd position in the league) with a disastrous second (17th by November). Not even when I was sacked.

The result is certainly a more varied experience. I’m now into the fourth season and the manager of Bayern Munich. They hired me after they were inexplicably “flattered” by my desperate, unemployed job application. Their decision paid off at least as I’ve just won the Bundesliga in my first season, and reached the finals (and lost the finals) of the Champions Cup and the German Cup. I’m feeling things I don’t normally get from the game: regret at decisions made, loss at the young players I signed and left behind, and a sense that the world the game simulates is larger than I am, as it now exists separate from me. Also: schadenfreude, as Laurent Blanc, who replaced me as manager at Man Utd, was sacked also at the end of his first full season.

Is this better than it was before? I’m not so sure.

My experiences are arguably more authentic, because I’m not acting as a script doctor at every turn, and am embracing fully the systems the designers have created for me. It’s certainly taken me to places that I would not have gone of my own accord.

On the other hand, I’m not enjoying the game anymore than I did before. That I won the Bundesliga legitimately doesn’t improve my enjoyment of the story that I’m crafting. It’s different, not better.

Sometimes different is a good thing. I’m going to continue this career in the same fashion and see what successes and losses, firings and hirings, come my way. But I’ll probably also start another career soon, and I’m betting the answer to the question up top will be the same as before: no.

This article was first published as part of, and thanks to, The RPS Supporter Program.

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Graham Smith

Editor-in-chief

Graham is to blame for all this.

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