Files Not Found: Handling Lost Progress In Gaming & Life

This post has been ruminating in my drafts folder (and my own head) for a few months, ever since I lost hundreds of A Plague Tale: Requiem Photo Mode screenshots back in January. This week, another project of mine hit a frustrating obstacle which put the idea of lost progress to the forefront of my mind – whether it be save data in a game, or work on a creative project. So in this post, I want to briefly talk about my thoughts on the pain of losing progress, and some of the techniques I personally use to push that disappointment aside.

To be clear, I’m not claiming to be an expert on this, but over the years I’ve done my best to find positives from these sorts of situations. Hopefully this ramble/editorial post will be something you can enjoy and get value from, as I’m sure everyone has encountered these sorts of emotions in some form or another!

Not in the Plan

As aforementioned, it was January when I first thought of writing about how I respond to lost progress. Playing through A Plague Tale: Requiem, I marvelled at the glorious 4K HDR visuals on Xbox Series S, and enjoyed playing around for hours in the Photo Mode. When I finished the game, I started to look into my captures folder, only to find that Xbox had unceremoniously deleted all of them without any warning. After looking online, I found that this was a widespread issue, but it was sadly little comfort as I stared at those empty folders. It was a sad moment, as those images would likely have gone into one of my best Gaming Photo Album posts yet.

All those photos, lost to the ether…

My immediate emotions that day were mixed; there was disappointment at the lost images and work, but also a conflicted sense of overreaction – part of me was thinking “it’s just a game and a blog post”. However, I’ve become increasingly aware that I’m someone who gains energy from creativity and productivity. That remains the case whether it’s a big work project, or a side hobby where I take photos in games and make a post about them. Subsequently, I pushed any sort of misguided self-shame aside quite quickly. After all, I wouldn’t judge anyone else in the same situation.

That brings me onto the other side of my reaction to these sorts of moments. Lost progress or data is almost always painful, because one of the driving forces of the human mind is the urge towards progress. Naturally, we’re all attempting to get better and improve in various skills and disciplines, so any time that our time seems wasted or lost, it’s going to have a blowback effect mentally. This might be in a video game, but equally it might be when we’re working out or saving for a big purchase. My go-to defence is the search for a silver lining – taking positives of any form from moments where it seems I’ve burned time and energy for no reason.

Waving goodbye to all my lost progress

My response can be self-criticism, which of course has to be mediated to avoid straying into over-self-deprecation. I’m still working on getting that exact balance right! Other times, it’s making a productive outcome from the loss of progress – i.e. doing something positive that wouldn’t have happened without that low moment. This post itself is a case in point, as it’s recent events which have inspired me to vocalize my thoughts on the subject in a written way. It’s a form of catharsis, where my frustration over the initial event is channelled in a different direction to a new outcome. Also, I’m going to make sure if I ever take photos on Series S again, I’m going to be backing them up regularly to the Cloud and a PC just in case Xbox just decides it doesn’t like them… !

Live & Learn

When talking about gaming specifically, there’s a unique dynamic of how we gain or lose progress. Unlike most other mediums such as TV or film, gaming has a huge emphasis on saving data. Other mediums are always moving forward, episode-by-episode or song-by-song, but in games there’s often the risk of being pushed back and having to replay segments. In the modern day, the risk factor of this has definitely been lessened by the prevalence of autosave mechanics and a general reduction of ruthlessness in most new releases – particularly triple-A flagship games, where death rarely has much penalty. Take Horizon Forbidden West, which I was playing recently – if I got clumsy and Aloy fell in battle, I was rarely pushed back more than a few minutes of playtime.

If you were wondering: no, I’ll never stop bringing up this game

This isn’t inherently a bad thing, and I totally get why it’s happened. As gaming has become more mainstream and accessible, the audience has widened, and most mediums are pushing towards being as friendly, instantaneous, and stream-friendly as possible. After all, which streamer is going to play a game where they get repeatedly stuck on the same segment of gameplay? There are positives and negatives to all this, with one of the main positives being how open gaming is to all people – I’m continually inspired by organisations such as SpecialEffect, who work to bring the joy of gaming to those less physically able. In my opinion, they key word should always be “options”; we should always be working to create as many options as possible for everyone, without taking away what came previously.

A great example of this is Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which contains a massive range of accessibility options. You can adjust the minutiae of gameplay, text, controls, visuals, and audio, both in terms of increasing and decreasing the difficulty. You can ease the challenge or ramp it right up, and the Deadly Obsession difficulty setting was a significant part of why I enjoyed the game so much. In this setting, the only save points are the campfires, with no autosaves – and sometimes you go hours between campfires! This makes every jump, fight, and decision extra-tense, as you have the stakes of lost progress at the back of your mind. Some of those chasm-spanning jumps definitely got my hands sweaty…

Don’t be threatened by the big jaguar

My point is that in gaming, save data (or the lack of it) can be a valuable tool for creating atmosphere and suspense, so it’d be a shame if we increasingly saw it disappear into constant checkpoints and safety nets. There are so many games from years gone by which effectively use save data as a gameplay element: for example, the early Resident Evil games and their limited ink-ribbon/typewriter system. One that always comes to mind for me is Metroid: Other M, where the Metroid Queen boss fight near the end of the game has multiple sections, forming a long sequence without save points. The child version of me was distraught when I first lost all that progress back in 2010 (sorry Mum, you had to hear me complain about that one)!

We Gotta Go Back

Speaking of, when I was younger I’d mainly just be upset and stubbornly play through the game again, but as I’ve gotten older, my mindset is different. The whole “silver-lining” aspect I brought up earlier definitely comes into effect here, and with games, there’s that inherent aspect of trial-and-error. With every attempt, you can learn the strengths and weaknesses of a boss or the layout of a level, in order to improve and finally overcome the obstacle. Metroid Dread was a fantastic example of this, with many bosses that seem almost insurmountable at first, until you learn their bespoke attack patterns and how to move the nimble Samus around them (even if it takes a few deaths first)!

Samus doesn’t make mistakes… I do

We’ve also seen roguelike become more popular over the years, taking the trial-and-error approach and actually rewarding the player for it. Hades is perhaps the best example – every run through Hell is an opportunity to learn, and even if you fail, you know you have a new character interaction waiting when you get back to the start, as well as new resources to spend on improving your character. The game turns losing progress into something enjoyable, and it’s not alone – numerous other roguelikes such as Dead Cells strike a similarly satisfying chord. Again, it’s a powerful example of how save data can be a gameplay mechanic of its own.

The other way my mindset has changed is a new willingness to stop. A major recent example is Life is Strange 2, which had the episodic release schedule started in the original Life is Strange. When Episode 2 launched, it had a bug which would wipe your entire save data for Episode 1 and 2 if you returned to the menu after completing the episode. As you can probably figure out, this is a very bad situation for a story-based game focused around player decisions and alternate paths, and yes, it sadly affected my file. DONTNOD eventually patched the game, but the idea of having to replay those 10+ hours has been too much of a wall for me to ever go back to, especially as it seems impossible to replicate the decisions I originally made. Who knows, it’s been four years now, so maybe I’ll go back to it one day and enjoy it anew now I’ve also completed True Colors.

Hopefully, one day I’ll go back to the story of Sean & Daniel Diaz

Ultimately, sometimes lost progress just sucks and there’s little you can do about it. With experience, I’ve come to be more aware that time often helps take away the initial daggers of frustration that come with these moments. Working in a creative field such as graphic design has trained me for that too, as there’s that perennially unpredictable element of how things will turn out in the end.

Final Thoughts

When discussing the topic of lost progress, there’s such a huge range of situations it can apply to. Because this is a site where I ramble on about my various opinions on gaming, anime, and more, I’m tying it specifically into those things, but I think – and sincerely hope – my thoughts here have value in many aspects of life. Obviously everyone is different, but I’m always looking to find a positive or divergent productivity from things that go wrong or get lost in my life, even if there’s many types of situation where that’s not possible.

Games have a specific relation to progression and save data, and how players react can be an intriguing parallel to other parts of life. This post itself wouldn’t exist without some of the annoying situations I’ve described above, so it is itself a microcosm of what I’ve been talking about. All this may well have turned into a bit of a ramble, but hey ho – I hope you enjoyed it and got something out of it.

I’ll leave you with a relevant clip which I think about a lot. This is the ending scene of Season Three of TV show Transparent, where after a fraught and fractious episode of the Pfefferman family arguing, Shelly Pfefferman (Judith Light) goes up on stage and sings a beautiful version of “Hand In My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette. As she sings the lyrics “… everything is just fine, fine, fine”, the whole family shuts up and revels in the magic of it all. It’s often a reminder to me to enjoy the moment and not overly worry about the past or future.

On that note… I hope you have an amazing day!

2 thoughts on “Files Not Found: Handling Lost Progress In Gaming & Life

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