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A Life In Video Game Save Files

Old video game save files can often be a look into the past.

When we get nostalgic, we tend to look at the things we have collected such as pictures and videos, and share stories with one another, but videogames are another form of time capsule that often remains untouched. An easily overlooked window into the past. A way to remember who we were at another point. The friends we competed against. The squabbles over who got the turbo controller. Even the times we completed a particularly arduous mission.

These memories tied to experiences that are locked in a frozen state. Unchanged by the passage of time, regardless of whether it is five minutes or five years after we last put the controller down.

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I recently thought about this while replaying Ocarina of Time. When I picked up an old, badly weathered three-pronged controller, I was transported back to a world where I was once again stood in front of the obnoxious bean merchant, chewing away as irritatingly as he did all those years ago. I recalled how the last time I was in this location I threw the controller down in frustration as I couldn’t find where to plant the last few seeds.

The more I thought about my previous gaming memories and the ungodly amount of time I ploughed into games, the more I realised how I could tap into a treasure trove of past experiences by accessing these files.

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We play games when we are happy, sad, ill, on special occasions, or, often as was in my case, hiding from my mum when she wanted me to wash the dishes, so it makes sense that our emotions can be recalled when we continue from a previous save point.

Although, not every save file will bring back positive memories. Take my second Sims family, The Wicks, who lived in a slightly run-down house. A cooker near the front door, items next to the road, and a smorgasbord of other haphazardly placed objects.

I realised that this was probably a manifestation of the frustrations and anxieties that I was experiencing during my first year of high school.

Yet move across to the neighbours’ and there was my brother’s family. A place that he spent weeks perfecting. It was his pride and contrasted his normally chaotic personality.

ocarina-of-time-art
Source: DeviantArt

This is far from the only example, however, and different games will often have alternative methods of saving progress. Some titles will allow only one save file, while in other games will allow more than a thousand pieces of progress to be saved onto a hard drive.

In Morrowind, for example, you can have an endless number of individual save points. This allowed me to be able to trace the steps of my progress. My reasoning behind heading down a particular path, levelling certain skills and even the moments that I found frustrating.

Replays, game mods, and even previously used cheat codes equally can carry the weight of the past in them.
A few years ago, I read a story about a mother who played Animal Crossing and became obsessed. More than a year after she had passed away, they discovered that she had been leaving presents for them in the game.

When I read it, I felt emotionally overwhelmed but slightly cynical that this could have happened. A set of events convenient for social media clicks, but, on reflection, a story not far removed from some of my own experiences.

Maybe most precious to me is my Mario Kart 64 ghost racer file. At the time, it was nothing more than a trivial thing that I decided to create, but after my father passed away, it has become a way for me to interact with him. A reminder of his incompetence in the game, but a time when we shared a laugh.

Something as simple and seemingly inconsequential as saving this data – less than a megabyte in space – has become one of the things most precious to me.

Just like a picture or video, it is something that we can use to look back at the past and smile.

Until next time on Mario Kart, Dad.

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