Resume From Last Checkpoint

A common problem in games, and one which is rarely solved well, is how to get a player who has left the game for a month or more caught back up on whatever’s going on at any given moment. I would say it’s a problem inexcusable in this sort of long-form media, that it would be incumbent on our medium to solve this problem immediately, except for the fact that every other sort of long form media seems to have the same damn problem. Television shows will sometimes recap an episode or two at the beginning of a new part, but it’s rarely enough to catch anyone who’s been gone any substantial amount of time back up.

So it’s the holiday season now, things are getting pleasantly crisp and cold and I’m jetting/driving up and down the coast visiting family. It’s very strange, sometimes, visiting a place you used to live, because it feels like the life you left there is still going somehow, a ghost life, and that you begin to fall back into it. We struggle to achieve escape velocity but when we return home the gravity of our previous lives is difficult to shake. I’ve never really lived in the house I’m in now, though I flirted with it briefly in a prolonged and impoverished stay some time ago, but, nevertheless, just being here I feel the pull of old habits long dead.

It is not always pleasant. Nostalgia is a sad kind of happy.

And as soon as I acclimate at all I’m back home, and I need to remember the person who I have declared myself to be and to slip back into that skin once more. How do I remember where to resume? I am in danger of losing the plot.

Yeah okay I probably could have figured that much out on my own though

I can’t tell whether it’s something universal, or incidental to my nature, or somewhere in between, but I find it very easy to slip out of my skin. Sometimes when I see others I see myself through them and I forget who is who. It is a bit jarring, a form of acute and externalized self-awareness it is easy to get lost in. I wonder if this, too, is a symptom of my history of gaming, my history of perceiving myself as being outside myself in order to participate in a narrative. Do we end up perceiving ourselves externally by habit?

It’s probably just me.

Most of the gamers I meet don’t seem very self-aware.

The point is, I guess, that it’s easy for me to get stuck in one place and let that place define me even as I shape that place to myself. The point is, I guess, that we build lives and personae in tandem and it’s easy to forget which goes with which or to get forced into one by proximity to the other. The point is, I guess, that no one has solved the problem of forgetfulness, of being away from somewhere for long enough that you have a hard time pretending you know what that place is any more or what’s going on there.

Even when the world stands still, our minds march on and lose sight of the past by distance.

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4 comments
  1. Derek said:

    I’ve already mentioned the design idea of having game continuations start off with the player-protagonist waking up from a bad blackout bender. I suppose you can do this in real life too. “Dude, pretend that I drank too much and blacked out the last entire week. NOT LIKE THAT REALLY DID HAPPEN. Now what class is this?”

    D.

    • I think we should all just adopt speech patterns which assume that whomever we are addressing has amnesia. It would take some getting used to, but in the long run it would be a boon for the chronically forgetful (read: everybody) and make exposition a lot easier to write into movies.

      As you know.

  2. It does seem like most of the story-based games that I play these days do have textual summaries of where the story has gotten to or what quest you’re on, presented when you load the game. It’s just a paragraph, but it helps to remind you what was happening after you set the game down for a month and then remember you never finished it.

    That only solves the what-was-I-doing problem, though. Games also have the how-was-I-doing-it problem. If I pick up a game I haven’t played in a while, I don’t remember the control scheme or what all the special moves are. I’d like to be able to at least access some kind of tutorial at any point, even if the game doesn’t hint “Hi, I see that you haven’t played in weeks and you don’t even seem to remember how to do the most basic of stuff. Would you like a refresher?” There’s been games I actively wanted to finish after an intermission for some reason, but I came back to them late in the game and had lost the necessary skills to progress, because the game’s difficulty was at its peak and I’d been effectively reset to a beginner.

    • I think also where a lot of those tend to fall short for me is that usually the quick summary of what’s going on isn’t that interesting. A good story, much of the time, really rests in the details, and these get lost in the ‘last week on’ format. Stories told in broad strokes are generally not very intimate.

      This is why I often find myself starting over and over again.

      The latter is a good point as well, albeit kind of a different problem. Because games have both a narrative layer and a mechanics layer and they both progress at different rates, it’s easy to lose one’s place in either of them.

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