Losing a save file from a lengthy RPG - or really any game to which you've committed multiple hours of your life - can be a traumatic experience. I may never be able to completely forgive Justice League Heroes for crashing seconds after my defeat of the final boss, Darkseid, and somehow corrupting my Xbox save file at precisely that moment. For a long time afterward, I wondered whether it was all part of an elaborate next-generation plot twist wherein Darkseid's in-game superpowers allowed him to wipe out all external evidence of his own defeat. It was total madness, of course, the paranoid thoughts of a man driven to the very edge of sanity by the untimely loss of a save-slot, but you might feel the same if your sense of completion was wrenched away from you at what should have been your moment of triumph. Those lost hours still haunt me today.


Time - it's always about time. When you lose your progress in a game, those moments are gone forever, almost as if they never existed. It's like an author watching his manuscript go up in flames, or an artist accidentally elbowing a tin of white paint over his perfect landscape - so much time and effort lavished on something so fragile. Perhaps these episodes hurt so much because they remind us of our own mortality, of the inevitable moment when (for all but a few) our works and deeds will fade from memory and disappear for good.

The Persistence of Memory

These incidents are traumatic enough when they occur in single-player games, but how much more tragic might the loss of a save state be in cases where the bond between player and avatar is even stronger? In the world of MMOGs, where players invest so much time and energy into a single character, the potential negative effects of data loss are far greater.

Single-player games usually measure progress purely by how far a person is through the narrative - the more of the story you have experienced, the closer you are to 100-percent completion. But in an MMOG, your character is the main focus of your progression. While narrative content certainly exists, it tends to be a conduit for reaching higher character levels. To tackle the hardest quests, players must be of sufficiently high level. Once they have completed those quests, they require new, tougher challenges to match their higher-level characters. In addition to adding quests and activities, MMOG developers are able to expand the maximum level it is possible for characters to reach. Theoretically, this means progress is infinite. Higher-level quests and character improvements can continue forever, resulting in a time-sink that potentially outstrips any single-player title by many hundreds of hours.

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