Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of themselves
Volley’d and thunder’d.
It should never have happened. Corporal Emile Heskey should never have risked it. The troop, all fully expectant to pull through from their encounter with the downed UFO were silent, trying to grasp the situation in which their colleague had been taken out by a stray plasma pistol shot. They were scared, frightened, but more than that they were angry.
They volley’d and thunder’d. They charged. Into the heart of darkness.
The above is perhaps a somewhat exaggerated and presumed account of what a team of XCOM: Enemy Unknown soldiers felt when faced with the dire travesty of the death of a colleague. Honestly, it’s what I’d like them to evoke when faced with death, but more likely it’s what I felt deep down inside, for I had created that character and I had made that choice.
After several intense minutes contemplating life and death, I reloaded. Corporal Heskey was reborn.
The action of reloading a previous save is something that we take for granted. We don’t think about the integral philosophy behind clicking a button to rob our previous last thirty minutes of any poignancy and inherent meaning, but it’s there. True, I could have saved a character that I’ve spent hours honing and tinkering with, but unless I allow whatever happens to happen then the idea of actions having consequences has no relevance. There are no ramifications. That’s a tad irksome.
This is obviously a specific characteristic of the video gaming medium. We are always given choice (unless you’re playing Dear Esther), and we always act upon it in our own way. The path that we take defines the path that the character or characters take; moreover, we are the harbingers of their fate, as we initiate all their responses. When we lose a character due to any number of reasons deriving from stupidity, ignorance, hopelessness, it is a harrowing experience for the most battle-hardened of gaming vets, but when we simply press a button to begin again, the whole sequence loses its significance. The fruits of our labour are such that the strenuous, taxing hours spent completing a sequence in a game seem like nothing when compared to the euphoric jubilance of the end result. Reloading over and over to simply get the ideal result is ultimately unfulfilling, because the medium itself dictates hard choices and moral dilemma.
When it comes to apparently real personal conflictions, Fallout 3 may indeed lead the way alongside the Mass Effect trilogy. For the sake of argument and fiery discussion let’s just assume this as fact. Both the Fallout and Mass Effect series are supposedly defined by this sense of choice. In Fallout 3, there is the infamous decision with regards to Megaton, and in Mass Effect, there’s the even more iniquitous Kaiden/Ashley dilemma. They are fundamentally fixated with our individualistic character traits as human-beings. We don’t know the ramifications of our actions; we are subconsciously choosing based on prior interaction and choice. If you thus decide afterwards that the other option would be better suited then you’ve essentially missed out on all that the medium can offer, both in terms of heartbreak, but also of experience.
Reloading back before this gut-wrenching moment in ME detracts from the experience of actions having consequences.
There are obviously examples where reloading an older save is imperative, due to anything from glitches to Dark Souls, but when it comes to the ever increasingly more difficult idea of decision-making, we should endeavour to accept our outcome. If I get a member of my team killed, well, that’s my fault, that’s on me. Videogaming is a medium that thrives from involving the player in situations that often mirror reality. Sure, we’re not fighting aliens on a daily basis, but there’s certainly a distinct correlation between making the wrong decision and having to cope with the outcome.
It’s disappointing that we so freely and openly disregard the oft brutality of our decisions, as it inevitably let’s us off the hook. There is no slap on the wrists in gaming normally; we’re given second chance after second chance in a manner that Supernanny would recoil at. The effect of reloading save after save is that we are cheating our way to the optimum result. What are we learning from that? How does that translate to modern life? It says, unfortunately, that we can get anything eventually, which is horribly skewed. When players reload a saved game after having made what they deem the wrong choice, they are ruining one of the integral processes of gaming, which is that choices have weight. What could potentially be a really defining moment ends up as insignificant because the end product is a result of illusory and delusive choices.
So Corporal Emile Heskey of XCOM survived because I chose to reduce the gravity of the situation with a simple reload. Was it the best option? For the character, sure. For me, I’m not so sure. I managed to complete the mission with all characters intact, but left discontented. The underlying feeling was that of a hollow victory, only enabled by way of the load button. Just as in life, we make horrible mistakes and we must accept and atone for them. The conclusion of a wrong move can be devastating, but at least we can own the feelings and emotions that come with it because when all’s said and done, our actions should contain some meaning.