Most players don’t give a ton of thought to the save systems in video games. But what happens when there’s more to saving and loading than just recording your progress and picking up later?
If you’ve come across the term “save scumming,” you’ve likely wondered this. Let’s dive into what save scumming is, its pros and cons, and whether you should do it.
What Is Save Scumming?
In video games, save scumming is the act of regularly saving your game and reloading that save whenever you don’t like the current situation. The exact reasons and frequency of save scumming differ by situation, which we explore below.
Save scumming is most applicable in games that let you save anywhere, like RPGs. In games with fixed save points or autosaves, it’s less common. This is also the case with titles that don’t return you to the exact spot upon loading a saved game, like most Legend of Zelda games.
Reasons for Save Scumming
Now that you know what save scumming is, how is this practice used in various games? Let’s walk through some examples.
Note that we’re focusing on save scumming using the options built into a game. One of the cons of playing games on an emulator is that it’s possible to save scum anywhere due to save states built into the emulator itself. While the same principles apply, save states also make it possible to save the game into an unwinnable situation, so take caution.
Save Scumming for Favorable Results
A common reason to make a save and keep loading it is to optimize a game’s randomness, known as RNG.
For example, in Fallout 3, your Speech skill level determines your chance of successfully using optional dialogue lines to earn some benefit, like convincing someone to pay you more for a quest. By save scumming, even with a low Speech skill, you can keep reloading a save file and trying again until you pass the speech check.
Another instance of this can occur in strategy games, where your characters have a certain percentage chance to hit their target. If the game allows you to save anytime, you can keep reloading a save until the hit connects, which removes the worry of missing.
Clever developers come up with ways to prevent players from doing this. In XCOM 2, each level’s random dice rolls are predetermined from the start and persist even if you reload a save. This means you can’t keep reloading to get the perfect result.
Save Scumming to Escape Consequences
On the flip side of the above, save scumming is also a strategy for immediately undoing anything negative that happens in a game.
For example, say you’re playing a stealth game and are aiming to complete the entire game without alerting any enemies. Someone who’s scumming will save before every encounter, then reload if they’re spotted.
A similar version of this can happen in any game that gives you lots of choices, such as immersive sims or sandbox games. If you’re not sure whether a given option or action is the right move, you can save and undo it if you don’t like the result.
This type of save scumming can help you optimize your playthrough, but when used too much, it sucks the fun out of a game. Exciting and memorable moments happen organically when you play through your mistakes instead of immediately undoing them to attempt a perfect run.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses contains another example of developers building anti-save scumming into their games, with its Divine Pulse mechanic. This allows you to undo a certain number of moves per level. Doing so discourages constant reloading, while still being forgiving enough to let you correct a few errors.
Save Scumming to Save Time
Another reason for save scumming is to help players avoid repeating the same parts of a game they’ve already cleared. Unlike the above two cases, this doesn’t always break the intended gameplay.
For example, in the Ace Attorney series of visual novels, you play as a lawyer who has to present evidence to counter logical contradictions in court. If you make too many mistakes, you’ll get a game over. But since the penalty for this is having to restart the chapter and go through everything you’ve already solved again, it’s more convenient to save before every decision and reload after your errors.
You can use this strategy to avoid playing through repetitive chunks of gameplay in nearly any genre, but it doesn’t always qualify as save scumming.
For example, if you have to fight through a 10-minute encounter with standard enemies to reach a boss, it’s reasonable to save after the mob since you’ve already proven you can beat it. However, if you save during the boss fight every time you land a few hits without taking damage, that’s scumming. You’re cheapening the boss fight by breaking it down into small pieces, rather than completing it in one attempt as intended.
Should You Save Scum?
As we’ve seen, there are some good and bad aspects to save scumming.
On the positive side, save scumming can keep you from wasting time on repetitive parts of gameplay, or sections that require trial and error. You can also use it to try various solutions in a game without a penalty for doing something “wrong.”
However, save scumming can quickly turn a game from a fun experience to something you optimize all enjoyment out of. It’s boring to go back and try again every time the smallest issue happens, and when there’s no consequence for failure, your decisions have no weight. If you never let yourself mess up, you’ll never enjoy the feeling of overcoming punishing odds or finding new solutions to problems.
Saving “the right amount” is a hard balance to strike. If you rarely save, you’ll have to replay chunks of the game every time you die. But having the always-present option to correct all your mistakes with two button presses kills all tension of a game.
Can’t decide if you want to save scum? Here’s our advice:
- Don’t save and reload to get a perfect outcome from random events or rewind all your mistakes, especially on your first playthrough. Let the game take its natural course and enjoy playing along with what happens.
- Strike a balance with how often you save. Don’t save every two minutes, but don’t go hours without saving either.
- For games like immersive sims that encourage experimenting with different approaches, there’s little harm in saving before you try something goofy, especially if you don’t plan to replay the game with a different style.
- If you’re saving to avoid replaying parts of a game you’ve already cleared, you’re fine. If you’re saving to make your run as close to perfect as possible, you’re scumming.
While the way you play a game is up to you, we think these guidelines result in the most fun. But since save scumming only applies to single-player games, it doesn’t hurt anyone else. You might also choose a different approach based on the game.
Don’t Let Save Scumming Suck the Fun Out of Games
Now you know what save scumming means, how it’s typically done, and whether you should do it. While saving and reloading regularly can help you cut out tedious parts of games, it’s a tactic we recommend avoiding when possible.
Scumming can be a useful tool when you’re completing a challenge run of a game, but it quickly turns the initial joy of discovery of a game into forced perfectionism, which isn’t fun.
Meanwhile, save scumming isn’t the only method of cheesing, or trivializing, video games.