Last week, I sold my second-hand copy of “Last of Us 2” on PS4 on Facebook Marketplace. I sold it for the same price I bought it, so I essentially had 25 hours of video gaming entertainment for free, which gives a whole new meaning to “Freemium” gaming!

I even wished the buyer of my third-hand copy an epic time and guaranteed them that they too will enjoy the game as much as I did.

The sale gave me a sense of completion and closure that I had planned all along. But did I really finish the game? Not if you count how many “Save Scum” restarts I made or the number of times I hit “Restart from last Encounter” or “Restart from last Checkpoint”. 

What is the “Save Scum” strategy in gaming?

Save Scum is manually saving your game often especially right before a difficult or risky part of the game. This allows you to restart if you fail or simply want to use the information gained from previous attempts to find the ideal strategy. This is different to the Autosave function (which may have been a long time ago, thus diminishing your ability to recall what is the ideal strategy) because ideally, the most recent Save Scum should be right before the difficult part you just attempted. There are many reasons why someone might Save Scum:

  • When I played Last of Us 2, I felt the need to maximise my resources (arrows and health). There is a sense of satisfaction killing 5 zombies using 5 arrows and not getting hit, even if it takes you 10 tries.
  • Sometimes, you Save Scum, because you just have to, the game might be really hard (or you are just not very good).

Some gaming purists like to look down on players who Save Scum because they see it as a form of cheating. But like most winning strategies it exploits programmed loopholes. Also, Save Scum is really a single player mode strategy. Even in fast, 20 minute competitive multiplayer games, respawning is as a “redo” of previous attempts, but so are the other human players you are competing against.

Could understanding the Save Scum strategy help your child’s school work?

The save scum strategy is an obsessive, perfectionistic way to complete a video game. It works if your child has an unlimited amount of time to complete a game. However, this is where I see young people falling into an unhelpful habit or trap. Because real life activities like homework or exams do not have the luxury of infinite time. There are 2 common obsessive behaviours that I see in my private telehealth practice. The first is the obsessive “this has to feel just right” behaviour often seen in young people on the autism spectrum or in obsessive compulsive disorder. They often fail academically, not because they are not intelligent enough to pass, but they are not able to express their abilities in the time allocated. They might feel the need to redo and bin assignments 100s of times (often rapidly contributing to deforestation in the process), fall behind and fail to meet deadlines. Rechecking answer in exams might get them a perfect score for the first 40 questions but fail the exam overall because they didn’t attempt the final 60 questions because the time ran out.

The second type of obsessive behaviour is the “reverse” obsessive behaviour, which similar to “paralysis by analysis”. Instead of being frozen by the worry of failure, they might escape or procrastinate by playing video games. They might not attempt to start assignments at all because if they put in their full effort and failed, this would be unbearable or catastrophic. There is usually underlying low-self esteem or a highly critical inner self. If anything, this young person might benefit by embracing or accepting failure in real-life. You can help reframe attempts via a real life Save Scum lens, by offering well timed feedback and encouragement often.

What can you do as a parent?

As a parent it is important to understand your child’s gaming and real life behaviour. How is it similar? How is it different? Can you borrow some gaming strategies for a winning result in class? Is it possible to get that same winning feeling in class that they seek in video games? As parents, its important that you validate their feelings and support them through their difficulties. Create a safe place for them to fail in real life. Game developers have mastered this. Also, form a relationship with a teacher who understands or get the assistance from a clinical professional like me who can write a letter to the school with recommendations on what could be going on and how we can make adjustments. Seek out a psychologist who can apply cognitive behavioural techniques to address negative thoughts, low self-esteem and better manage worry.