To continue or start over: reacting to mistakes

Starting fresh

There is something so exhilarating about starting a new game, everything is new, all the choices and cinematics have meaning. The world feels concrete and absolute due to our choices, yet we still wonder how things would be different if we had made a different choice, or gone a different path.

My first character build Pom Pom the Illusionist – part 1: Inspirationtaught me a lot about sticking with a character no matter how impossible it seemed
Making a mistake and giving up

We make our way through hours of gameplay, honing our skills and developing our character, forging our way through the story and challenges. However, an important lesson always comes to us about mid way through our playthrough, our character just didn’t work out, something didn’t go to plan, a skill we invested in turned out to be less important, a weapon we sold ended up being what we needed, a friend we made betrayed us. We make a mistake that makes us question our whole playthrough, in some cases the feeling of failure is so great, some gamers give up and quit the game entirely.

In my article, The world that he wants: the aftermath of siding with Shaun, I explored the regret I felt after making the final decisions in my first full playthrough of Fallout 4

Returning to an old save file can be tough, we find our skills dulled, our knowledge of the world and our motivations a little unclear, and our egos bruised when taking on the challenge we used to be able to overcome. At times like this, especially in long role playing games, it can be easy to feel like it would be better to just start over.

In my article TerraGenesis: transforming failure into success, I talked about the challenges I faced when having to decide between culture and prosperity, sustainability and growth
There are benefits to starting over, we can keep the weapon we should have for later, invest in the right skills, and be more careful about our alliances, yet, therein lies the problem with starting over in the pursuit of getting things “right”; we miss the lessons our mistakes should be teaching us. In my article Chasing perfection & fearing failure: the problem with relying on guides, I discuss how this desire to get everything right can rob us of the growing experience we have when completing a playthrough, mistakes and all.

There is always the opportunity to complete another playthrough with another character, where your choices are different, your actions take you down a different path, and you avoid some of your past mistakes, as one does after making mistakes in real life.  However, the complete rejection of a mistake keeps a player constantly looping back in time to make things right which cheapens the value of making that judgment call.  We will always face failure, and we will always have something in the past we could have done better, it is the determination to finish, not the excellence with which we achieve the completion, that we should develop in ourselves.

Do you ever find it hard to come back to something you quit in the past? Do you believe that it is better to see something through the first time or keep starting over until you get it just right? Do you feel like there could be some healthy middle ground between being okay with making mistakes while also allowing yourself to start over if things just aren’t going right?  I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please do so in the comments below, or write in to

Play Professor is the blog of ludologist and video game journalist Andrew Mantilla. You can check out more of his content on FacebookTwitterInstagramand Youtube.


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