— Rob Morgan (@AboutThisLater) May 15, 2014
Well, there we go. In an era when I keep pretty much everything in one cloud or another, this bothered me a lot more than I expected it to. A couple of months ago, an old laptop finally died on us – a partially melted, soup-stained one which had seen me through a year in Japan years ago. It had long since been relegated to the status of ‘TV computer’ – the one permanently plugged into the TV. I.e., the slowest and least graphically impressive computer in the house, fit only for streaming.
When that laptop finally gave up the ghost in a puff of ozone, it never even occurred to me that there might be files on it which needed rescuing. It had all been backed up ages ago – and everything I’ve made in the last couple of years is permanently housed on Dropbox anyway.
But when the XBox went, it took all of our saves with it- thousands of hours of time passed, unlocks, and in one case, all the memories of a romance seven years in the making.
It’s not the end of the world (which, as I’m always saying, is kind of overrated anyway), but it is annoying. While I’m deciding whether I can afford to go get it reballed, the main thing which struck me is that this will have the biggest impact NOT on the new games I play, but on the old games I’ll replay.
I have no particular problem dropping some cash at CEX to get a second hand XBox, in order to play the remaining 6-9 months worth of new releases in the system’s lifespan. But if I’m going to pay to get the old one repaired it will be because there are games I’ll never replay, never even FINISH, if I don’t.
I’m not particularly achievement-hungry, and I don’t feel like I’ve physically lost something now that the console has turned itself into an unresponsive grey loaf. But what I have lost is an experience: the ability to pick up an old game and immediately start playing my favourite maps, often from games no-one else is playing anymore: the Hawk levels from Halo:Reach, say, or the middle act of Arkham Asylum, or pretty much any level from Spec Ops: The Line.
I’m not going back to those levels for the story – though actually all three of those games have story beats I’ve returned to time and time again. I used to pick up and load a favourite level partly to challenge myself, to see if I could get through them and beat my old time, but mostly because they were familiar, and tactile, and satisfying. If I’m playing new games, I tend to do it on Steam now. But if I only have forty minutes to play something and unwind of an evening, I’d just as likely put in the disk of a game five years old – the original Infamous, maybe, or Splinter Cell: Conviction. It’s like a favourite, dog-eared book, or a beloved Simpsons episode that you know all the words to.
It also means that I’m unlikely ever to finish Assassin’s Creed 4 or Far Cry 3. As much as I was enjoying them, I haven’t got the time or patience to run through them again from the start. I’d got to the endgame, I’d been poised ready for the finale for ages, unwilling to take the plunge, and I’d been noodling around in their respective game worlds so long that I knew them pretty well. But if I went back to them from a fresh save, it would be to get into the open world again, and stay there. I’d blast through the linear early missions as quickly as possible, and then loiter indefinitely as soon as I was free.
To me it’s a good example of games having meaning beyond the twitchy, challenging and unexpected experience – the bit that makes them easy to dismiss as a ‘pastime’. There’s nothing wrong or unworthy about a well-designed challenge, but there’s definitely something to be said for a familiar set-piece, a favourite story beat, a lovingly crafted map, at the end of a long day.