On Being Unable to Pause (Day 21)

Pausing is such a commonplace feature that only its absence warrants mention. It’s a necessary part of games; only a select few of us can play games without interruption and in those cases, the ability to pause can be a life saver.

Some games opt to neglect this feature, usually because the game can’t be saved for whatever reason – most commonly because the game is multiplayer, or features multiplayer components. It’s impossible to save a game that other people are playing, unless it’s some kind of unique abstraction of the idea (like passive mode in Grand Theft Auto V).

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Dark Souls is a mostly single-player game that disallows saving. In this case, it’s because the game features a unique form of online play where other players can invade your game to try and kill your character. This can happen practically anywhere, and being able to save would be problematic – you’d either have to disable player saving when an invasion was imminent, or disallow players from invading paused games and both systems have a similar level of problems to deal with.

Similarly, no MMO can be saved – World of Warcraft, for example, has millions of players and hundreds of thousands of them are online at any given time. Pausing the entire game is out of the question, though a system where you “pause” your character could be extremely helpful.

I understand and accept all of that, but it’s not exactly ideal. Why, for example, can you not pause Dark Souls while playing offline? Pausing doesn’t give you any kind of advantage, unless perhaps you have a congenital heart defect and need to take a breather when playing games. This problem – to me, at least – is excusable in the Souls series because the game very much encourages players to be online, where the absence of pausing makes perfect sense.

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When I reviewed Salt & Sanctuary – a game I mostly enjoyed – I criticised it for copying a lot of what made Dark Souls great without developing any kind of understanding as to what made those things work.

Salt & Sanctuary is extremely derivative,  and the fact that you can’t pause the game at any point is baffling. It seems to have been excluded because Souls did it, rather than for any reason I can discern. To be clear – there’s absolutely no form of online play in the game. No invasions or cooperations, and also no pausing.

Similarly, a game I love very much (despite not yet being released) is Nioh. I’ve played an ungodly amount of the alpha, beta and now the last chance trial, and it astounds me that you also can’t pause in that game. Again, no connectivity – it’s a “Souls-like” game, but lacks a convincing reason as to why it can’t be paused.

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This stuff was fine when I was 14 and lived at home. Now that I have a partner, a full-time job and other normal obligations, it’s kind of a joke. It’s not as if I’m an exceptionally busy person and am taking calls every few minutes, but just a normal level of stuff is way more than enough to warrant the ability to pause a game. I imagine that if you have children, games like this are largely unplayable.

I mentioned this about a year ago on Reddit – because a year ago I hadn’t yet learned to not argue on Reddit – and the response was “then this isn’t the kind of game for you”. Yes, I agree. That’s the problem! It would be a game for me (and many, many more) with the simple ability to pause. Games aren’t and never should be prioritised over the real world, and unless the core design of the game technically forbids it (like with online connectivity), then I’m yet to see a compelling reason as to why it’s excluded from so many titles.

One I’ve heard is that “fights [in the game] get your heart rate up and being able to pause lets you calm down”. Firstly, that doesn’t at all sound like a bad thing to me. Secondly, I sort of get it – I’ve had my heart pump faster than I’d like to admit when I’m on the knife’s edge in a game, but if it’s at a point where it’s physically affecting your ability to play, you need to see a doctor immediately.

Have I missed something extremely important? Is this just an incoherent rant? How do you feel about games that don’t let you pause? Let me know in the comments!

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