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I’m reckoning with my save scumming ways

I’m sorry, I just want control

a king in the bottom right corner petting a black cat in Yes, Your Grace Image: Brave At Night/No More Robots
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

OK, I’m ready to come clean. I was playing Red Dead Redemption 2 a few months after it was released in 2018. It was a weekend, either before or after Thanksgiving, and I was playing on my parents’ television, my sisters and mom watching my cowboy journey. I was riding along a trail on my horse — beloved, but not nearly as iconic as Hayseed — when a stranger called out for help. Naturally, I stopped to give aid.

I jumped off my horse and approached the stranger. Immediately, the stranger jumped on my horse. I was shocked. My family was hysterical. I started running, thought it was pointless. This guy had just stolen my horse, a horse I petted and fed carrots — a horse I loved. I shouted at my family to close their eyes. (They didn’t.) I restarted the game at my last save before The Incident, told my family to never speak of this again, and vowed never to help strangers in Red Dead Redemption 2.

Yes, it’s true. I am a save scummer. Save scumming is the act of reverting back to previous saves to prevent bad things from happening. Sometimes, it means saving a bit more than usual — or after something particularly good that happens — so that you’ve got a good place to start back up. You can save scum in most games, really. Lose your best crew member in XCOM 2? Just go back to an old save! Someone steal your beloved horse? No worries! An old save can fix that.

I often feel shameful about the practice, yet it’s never deterred me — until I began playing Yes, Your Grace. Developed by Brave At Night, Yes, Your Grace is a kingdom management role-playing game where I play as a struggling king with a wife and three daughters. The game’s story unwinds in weekly cycles, and I can progress to the next week as long as I don’t run out of gold or provisions. But you’ve also got to balance the needs of the kingdom’s people, make allies, and prepare for battle. Oh yes, and then there’s your family’s needs — I love my precious daughters, but, holy moly, are they needy!

Needless to say, there are a lot of things to manage. I quickly became overwhelmed as the problems started piling up. My eldest daughter is worried I’ll marry her off to the first ally that comes along. Bad guys are coming to take said daughter, thanks to a curse that was prophesied earlier in my life. They’re going to declare war, and now I need allies. My most promising ally can give me 3,000 soldiers, but he wants my daughter to marry his son. I make the decision that, to save my daughter, I must have her marry this other king’s son.

I made the decision and weeks pass as I prepare both for battle and my daughter’s wedding. I pick her a large, poofy dress that she hates. The wedding goes off without a hitch — until my new ally gets poisoned and dies. The son (now the new king) withdraws his soldiers and takes my daughter back to his castle.

Well, shit. My first instinct was to roll back to an old save. The only problem is that saves seem to be automatic, at the end of each week. So many weeks have passed. I’ve done so much since I agreed to the partnership. I would have to replay so much of Yes, Your Grace — too much to fix my mistakes. The only option is reckoning with my mistakes.

If this were any other game, I might have done it — but Yes, Your Grace is a slow, repetitious game. That’s part of the appeal and the challenge; what seems like a small decision might actually make a huge difference weeks later. The big, scary decisions may not actually matter all too much. It’s uncomfortable to make many of these choices, and that’s the point. I’m starting to come around to the idea that save scumming might otherwise alter that experience. I’m all about owning up to my mistakes in real life, but I’m starting to accept that I can do that in games, too.