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Illustration - a controller shaped marshmellow is being roasted over an open fire in the forest. Illustration: Cass Marshall

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The time I lost my Pokémon save file, and other scary campfire stories

Imagine an ominous thunderclap

Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

I hope you’ve had a great day of reading bright, sunny articles at Polygon Summer Camp, and you’re all tuckered out. Now it’s time to gather ’round the flickering campfire, with the hot dogs and s’mores long since eaten, and tell some scary stories about gaming. You might be thinking about something like the giant baby from Resident Evil Village right now, but a more chilling example would be a famous effect from Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, where a character suffering the effects of cosmic madness would hallucinate that the game’s save files had been corrupted and wiped.

It’s an effective joke for the game to play because, well, horror stories like that happen all the time in gaming. So scoot closer to the fire, while I hold this flashlight ominously under my face, for three of the scariest gaming stories I’ve experienced over the years.

Caught them all

I started on Pokémon young, but I kept picking up the mainline games in the series as I grew into my preteens. While my fumbling little-kid hands and walnut brain weren’t able to achieve the series ethos and truly catch them all during the era of Pokémon Blue, I eventually got there in Pokémon Black.

After years of effort and five generations of Pokémon, I had done it — I had filled out my Pokédex and caught them all in a game. Satisfied with my achievement, I no longer clutched my Nintendo DS jealously at all times. During a larger family occasion, I passed my DS to a younger relative. “Take a look,” I said. “Just be careful.” But my warning would go unheeded. After I got the DS back, I checked my game ... to find that my save was gone! It had been deleted, and my ’mons were now lost to the ether forever.

Saints Row: The Third - The Third Street Saints pose dramatically as an explosion happens down the city street. Image: Volition/Deep Silver

Midnight launch

In 2011, I was living with my husband, my best friend, and my best friend’s wife. All three of my roommates were completely enamored with the Saints Row games, and Saints Row: The Third was upon us. I had never gotten into the series, so I could only watch with mild bemusement as my roommates booked time off work to enjoy the launch, arranged the apartment so all three of them could play without accidentally spoiling each other, and eagerly speculated on the plot.

There was an electric energy when the game launched and they came home after midnight with their brand new copies, finally settling down to play. But to my horror, something happened. The mood of the apartment turned from excited and anticipatory to grim and dreadful: They didn’t like the game. Saints Row: The Third instantly kills series veteran and fan favorite Johnny Gat and then launches into a goofy, over-the-top open-world adventure. For my friends, who had loved the more grounded elements of Saints Row 2, this was a disappointment.

And so, the very night they had purchased the game, my apartment was haunted as the three of them started wandering away from their consoles, roaming the apartment in despair. Throughout the next few days, they would return to the game to give it another shot, but inevitably they would find nothing but despair. I heard their agonized wails as they gathered to list off their grievances with the game. Their carefree vacation had been spoiled, and the hype train was truly off the rails. To this day, the three of them frown when Saints Row 3 comes up in conversation.

Dragon Age Origins: Alistair and the Grey Wardens fight a monstrous Darkspawn. Image: BioWare/Electronic Arts

The final act

I devoured Dragon Age: Origins at launch in 2009, searching out every side quest and digging into the backstory of every character. I played a heroic Grey Warden mage, always striving to do the right thing in this dangerous, politically complicated world. While the game’s ultimate goal is to destroy the Archdemon at the heart of the Blight, the Grey Wardens are betrayed early on, leaving the heroes significantly understaffed. Over the course of a hundred hours, I battled back the Darkspawn, built a team, cleared my name, and grew close bonds with all of my companions — especially the only other surviving Grey Warden, Alistair, and Witch of the Wilds, Morrigan.

By the time I was approaching the endgame, I was faced with a final dilemma. Alistair and I were falling deeply in love, but the Archdemon had to be killed by a Grey Warden — and doing so would damn the soul of whichever Warden landed the death blow. Morrigan, my once reluctant ally turned closest friend, came to us, offering a way out from that horrible choice with a magical pact — she could sleep with Alistair, bear his child, and when the Warden killed the Archdemon, his taint would transfer to the unborn child. As awkward and unethical as that deal was, we agreed.

This should have been the culmination of dozens of hours of investment, player choices, and drama. But, at the last moment, it was spoiled by two shocking moments.

The first was that throughout the entire run, I played undisturbed in my bedroom. But when Alistair and my Warden decided to consummate their relationship, I heard the door open behind me in real life, and my mom walked in and saw the entire sex scene. We haven’t spoken about it since.

The other factor was that, before the eve of the final battle, Morrigan thanked me for my patience with her and admitted I was very dear to her. I saw a conversation option where the Warden would ask her, Hey, if you want more friends, have you tried being less mean to everyone all the time? I chortled, saved my game, and then talked to Morrigan and picked that option. She was, understandably, very mad, and choosing that option tanks your relationship ranking. Then I went back to my save file and found that it was gone. Was it a glitch? Had I somehow input the save wrong? I had no explanation, but I couldn’t scum my way out of this one; I had just been hideously rude to my best friend before the eve of the battle to stop a great evil.

As such, I cringed my way through the last leg of the game, apologizing all the way. Sorry. Oh, jeez, sorry. It turned a triumphant victory lap around a game I loved into something much more awkward.

Alright, campers, I hope these stories didn’t scare you too bad. Perhaps you have a similar scary story that you can save for the next time you find yourself huddled near a campfire, swapping tall tales — or just dish in the comments, so I can feel a little less alone with my own haunting memories.