I used to leave my ZX Spectrum on overnight, just so I wouldn't lose my progress in Magicland Dizzy. Listening in the darkness to the ominous hum of the power-pack and wondering if it was about to spark an electrical fire probably cost me a few nights of decent sleep. But without a save function, retaining my progress seemed worth the risk.
The concept of save states certainly existed at the time. Gigantic space-trading game Elite, released in 1984, allowed players to record their progress onto a separate cassette tape, perhaps recognizing that it was asking a little much for people to leave their computers on for months on end. In shorter games, though (even though "shorter" could still mean a period in excess of 10 hours), save functions were an afterthought. Players could pretty much forget about finishing a title like Jet Set Willy without devoting an entire half-term holiday to the task, and leaving it in your machine meant you couldn't play anything else in the meantime. It was a sort of self-imposed Jet Set Willy-based purgatory.
Gradually, though, developers began to unshackle players from these marathon, eye-destroying play sessions. Once a novelty, save functions have grown to become a gaming staple. Suddenly, we all began to notice that developers put absolutely zero effort into their congratulatory screens. ("You win! Play again y/n?") Much more importantly, though, our gaming progress could be housed on cassette, disc or cartridge, ready to be recalled at a later date of our choosing.
Right Click, Save As
That's the theory, anyway. But innovation often comes at a price, and in this instance it's the possibility that hours, days or even months of hard gaming can evaporate in a moment of madness. Sure, we can point our fingers at the devil-may-care attitude of those players who save their games to a single slot and say they deserve to endure the indignities of file corruption. But who among us has not suffered a similar fate? A combination of carelessness and poor interface design can draw our cursors to the "delete all" button when we only mean to clear a slot or two for a new save. And let's not forget the potential for a passing scoundrel to wave magnets near our hard-drive, or for an inept younger sibling with no hand-eye coordination to somehow figure out how to erase data.
Quicksave abusers are perhaps the most susceptible to these fatal mistakes. It seems so simple, doesn't it, to waltz through the game jabbing that quicksave key before every moment of danger. Some even say it takes all the excitement out of gaming. But the quicksavers don't care. They just want to finish the damn thing - that is, until one day muscle memory takes over and they inadvertently reach for the button at the precise instant of their characters' death. From that moment forward, they're condemned to a terrible cycle where every reload brings immediate death. The "restart mission" option glares at them without pity.