I take a deep breath. My teeth are clenched. I work my jaw back and forth and try to relax as the familiar door appears in front of me. I unsheathe my sword. Okay, I think, let's try this again.
The door opens and I burst into the room. The first guard is sitting down, staring straight ahead. As always, he seems surprised to see me. I greet him with the usual kick to the face.
He topples backwards in his chair, crushing it. He sprawls amongst the debris, coughing and groaning. I spin around to find his partner, who for the last five attempts has taken to running up behind me and ruining my fun. Sidestepping his clumsy advance, I wind up for my counter-attack.
In an astonishing twist my first strike sends his head careening wildly from his shoulders, a high sickle arc of blood spiraling behind it. I'm surprised, and more than a little pleased with myself.
"Woah," I say, "That's never happened before."
Next there is the archer at the opposite end of the room, who by now will have heard the ruckus and begin pelting me with arrows, unless I get to him quick enough to--wait, what's going on? Is somebody hitting me?
The other guard has gotten up. He's slashing at my back, no doubt wreaking his petty revenge for making him crush his favorite chair, and also decapitating his partner.
Well this won't do at all.
I hit the F9 key. The screen goes black, and then says "Loading Quicksave". I take a deep breath. The door appears again.
"Wait, what's it called?" she asks. It's Friday night. The bar is loud and bustling; she must not have heard me the first time. Still, I hate repeating myself.
"DARK MESSIAH of MIGHT and MAGIC," I say deliberately.
She frowns a little. "Sorry," she says. I feel sheepish.
It's been a stressful week. All she wants to do is have a little fun before she hunkers down to study for her midterm, so we've come to this bar to eat and be merry. But I'm in a strange mood, and it certainly isn't merry. My head is still buzzing with the worries of the past week--missed assignments, failed tests, the slow steady slide back into the hole--so I'm quiet and uneasy. I try to make an effort.
"It's really a ridiculous game," I mumble.
She blinks. "Why's that?"
"Well," I say, "at times it makes me feel like I'm thirteen. I mean its premise, its setting, the plot and characters"… it all seems so juvenile. It's a little embarrassing at times."
She takes a contemplative sip of her drink. I can't help but notice she does not seem too engaged by the conversation.
"So why are you playing it all the time?" she asks.
"Because the gameplay is so damned good," I say. "That's what's so frustrating about it! I keep reloading scenes to play them over again and I never get anywhere. It's like I'm caught in an infinite loop. What I can't fathom is how the intellectual ambition needed to create that sort of gameplay didn't transfer to the writing. It's like a marriage of the best and worst parts of gaming."
She doesn't seem too interested, which makes me acutely self-conscious. I fold myself up, and suddenly I've nothing left to say. All I can do is sit and stare at the people around us. As the silence becomes more awkward, and she becomes more upset, I start to wish this night could be attempted again.
I open the door. I have by now distilled each coming action to its essence. The next few moments have become a martial dance, a bullet point list.
Enter. Kick face. Parry. Parry. Thrust. Chop.
While I feel a twinge of disappointment that I do not trigger another spectacular decapitation, I do remember to refocus my attention on the first guard. He is brazenly attempting to stand. This goes against my wishes, so I kick him once again, and then thrust my sword into him for good measure. Looking good so far"…
I grunt as an arrow hits me. I glare across the room. The archer stands alone, looking at me, perhaps taking a moment to consider the tragic folly of his actions. My vision blazes as adrenaline sets my body aflame. The archer seems to shrink. He begins to backpedal. I sprint across the room, and with a single apocalyptic stroke I cleave him neatly in twain.
I sigh, and press F9.
We're sitting in her car, and she is quietly crying. I'm uncertain as to when I lost my grip, but this night has gone completely out of my control. She wanted a few moments to relax after a difficult week, and I gave her half an hour of uncomfortable silence. The evening is ruined--and all I want is to try it over again. Of its own volition, my finger reaches for a quicksave button which isn't there.
But it wouldn't be enough just to try this night over. I'd need to redo the entire week, the entire month, the year"… I'd have to start from the beginning, systematically change every unsatisfactory thing about my personality since birth, replay my entire life until I got it "right". These are the difficulties of a life without quicksave--you're stuck with what you've done, and you're stuck with who you are.
I might be able to fix things, to change with time, but this doesn't comfort me now. Later I may be forgiven, but now she is crying, and now I am wishing that I was someone else.
Once again I stand at center stage amidst the remnants, surveying my work. That was pretty good, I think.
Pretty good--but not perfect. Although I have no idea what "perfect" is I am certain that I'll know it when I see it. I just have to keep playing until I do.
Perhaps I'm the problem. Maybe I can't get it perfect because I'm imperfect.
Of course--it's obvious, really. I'm not doing enough damage. I should have put those skill points in strength instead of endurance. If only I were different in just that regard, I'm certain this would be perfect, and I could stop playing it over and over again, and I could move on with the rest of the game.
At least now my course is clear. I just need to be someone else. I load up an earlier saved game to make the adjustments to my character. It means playing through an even larger portion of the game a second time, but this is a small price to pay for perfection. I'll get back to this door eventually, and when I do I'll get it right, and then won't I be glad I have so many quicksaves? After all, life would be so much more complicated without them.