Dirt: Save scumming
Saving yourself in 'Disco Elysium.'
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And in today’s Dirt, Paul McAdory writes about a controversial video game practice.
If dirt is good (per company line) scum is maybe bad. It’s gelled dirt, dirt processed toward increased liquidity and decreased recognizability. You see it on the heel of your shoe or in the neglected nether regions of a trashcan whose bag you’ve removed and shudder. You notice it mucking up the surface of a pond or coating bathroom tiles and mouth “Ew.” If you’ve recently read Don DeLillo’s thick grime novel Underworld, you’re primed to hear “scum” and think “-bag” and then “condom,” possibly one used and droopy with discharge.
But if you’re a gamer, and especially if you’re a gamer who spends time perusing forums, you’re less likely to visualize slimy latex when you hear “scum” than you are a couchbound human specimen. He’s mumbling curses to himself. He seems caught in a loop. Again and again, he clicks through menus and reloads his file to the same, apparently decisive moment. Fortune favors the obsessive, or let’s be nice and say persistent, and he will persist until the chips fall exactly as he wants them to and the screen flashing in front of him tenders a happy outcome, for he is scum. Or rather, he’s save scumming.
Per the askagamedev tumblr,
Save scumming is usually the act of saving the game, engaging with content that has a random result, and then reloading the save to “re-roll” the result if the results aren’t satisfactory (e.g. save, open the special loot box hoping for the good drop you want, then reload if you don’t get it). This makes any result that doesn’t meet some player-defined acceptability criteria a failure in the player’s eyes, which means they feel forced to reload and do it again until they achieve an acceptable result.
The practice, then, allows one to exploit a game’s mechanics in order to produce an experience of the game that aligns with one’s desires as one understands them. Still, it’s controversial and regularly, if mostly lightheartedly, associated with weakness and uncleanliness. “Not once did I ever save scum in this game,” reads the title of an old Bloodborne forum entry. “Even the thought makes me feel dirty,” the OP continues. (The first reply, by a proud scummer, insists that its author’s “conscious is clean as a whistle.” Further down a user asserts that “it’s a millennial thing cuz they’re all wimplords.”) Elsewhere, a Redditor asks, “Who else is comfortable admitting to be a dirty, dirty save scummer?”
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Assuming questions of purity, strength, integrity, etc., don’t warrant serious consideration vis-à-vis save scumming, one might ask, do players, in fact, know what they want, and does save scumming necessarily help them get it, particularly in story-driven games, where choices and chance convolve to shape the narrative? “Given the opportunity,” mightn’t they “optimize the fun out of a game,” per a 2011 article in Game Developer and the posts that cite it? Playing Disco Elysium: The Final Cut this year, I found myself asking these questions and not much liking my answers.
In Elysium, you control an amnesiac-alcoholic detective sent to the harbor of a ruined city called Revachol, where communism briefly reigned but has long since been quashed by the international liberal consensus. You’re there to solve a murder, which means walking and talking and little else. You talk to a union leader, lorrie drivers, guns-for-hire, hardcore ravers, methy kids, arty communists, ancient royalists, dead bodies, beefy fascists, cursed neckties, and gay guys. You talk to yourself–voices torture you for past misdeeds or offer you new personality types. All this talking determines who you–which is to say the nerve-damaged detective whom you control–are, with an enormous number of branching possibilities available. Which conversation options do you choose? In the limited amount of time you have to talk to people each day, whom do you chat up? More relevantly, which conversation checks (i.e., tests/challenges) can you pass? And if you fail to pass them, do you accept your character for what he stands to become or run it back?
Me? I scum. What becomes apparent, though, is that, unlike many games, Elysium incentivizes failure or at least doesn’t regularly punish you for it. Bad things don’t happen all that frequently when you suffer a bad roll, just different things, which lead you to different places than an unbroken series of successful checks. Another Reddit thread puts it simply: “don’t save scum, the game is built around you failing.”
The game pokes at a fear mined more recently in Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal: that of relinquishing control and making one’s mark and making it sloppily sometimes and living with the consequences. Elysium gives you a way out. Save scum to the bitter end if you like. It’s just a game. Only there are still consequences. There is still a man stuck to a couch, almost smeared on it now. He’s clicking the same sequences of buttons to have the same people say the same things to each other over and again. He’s spending minutes which add up to hours to produce his ideal detective. In the meantime he’s produced this self. — Paul McAdory
The Dirt: Save yourself.
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