Retrospective Look at Saving in Video Games

By Alexander Campbell
Have you ever stopped to think how cool and convenient video games are these days? With our 60 frames-per-second games, terabyte memory space, and online stores, you can just buy and download video games from without ever having to leave your house.
Can you imagine that there was a time when saving your game was a concern, or just not even possible? Today we have the almighty “auto-save” and cloud storage for our precious game files, but that was not always the case. Let’s take a look at the history of saving in video games. The first kinds of video games that were ever made available to the public were coin-operated arcade machines and what is known as the “1st generation of home consoles”, which consisted of systems such as the “Magnavox Odyssey” and “Pong”.
For the consoles, there simply was no saving, but to be fair the games were short and/or basic enough that that really wasn’t a concern. Some only consisting of a single screen that you moved your character on. As for the arcades, they were deliberately made for the sake of eating your quarters. Arcade games were made long and incredibly challenging and unfair at times, but held the promise of saving your high score to entice players to spend more money when they died to continue. As consoles began to grow and go through their various generations into what we have today the necessity to be able to save your progress became important, and thus developers began to devise means, one of which being passwords. Often a random jumble of words and numbers, a game would fork one over for you to write down when you wanted to stop playing, or died, or reached a new level that you could input to start over from where you left off.
Then came the advent of cartridges that you could manually save your data on without having to write down a long, complicated password. Think of the cartridges of the “Super Nintendo Entertainment System”, or the cartridges for the original “Pokemon” games on “Gameboy”. After this came the rise of the memory card. Basically what amounts to a modern day flash drive for storing information, you plug it into a console and save data. The nice thing about memory cards was that since the information was on the card, as opposed to the system or the game itself, you could plug it into a friend’s console and play games with all of your progress in your pocket.
Lastly, we have what is known as the “save state”. As computers became more powerful it became possible to emulate console games on them. Emulation can allow you to mess with a game in several ways, one of which is being able to save a state of the game, that is, save an exact instance of gameplay and return to it instantly, say, right before you get hit by an enemy so you can dodge instead of dying. Emulation of video games is a rather controversial issue, but it cannot be denied that save states are amazing luxuries of technology.
Well there you have it, a brief look at the history of saving in video games. Remember to be grateful for what you have and to be mindful of your saves when you play older games on older systems.
A gameboy color from the late 90’s.