Save the Date’s Groundhog Day Style Loop

By Spencer

I find Save the Date to be very fascinating in terms of how it relates to the Groundhog Day style time loop. One of the most important parts of Groundhog Day’s time loop is that Phil doesn’t understand why it’s happening or how to end it. Thus, if we accept the common assumption that the way to break the loop was for Phil to become a good person, Phil’s only option is to naturally achieve this goal. He can’t just come up with a precise strategy to get through his goals for the day or a way to “quit” the loop by dying. By comparison, the interactive fiction the loop can teach you a lesson or skill, but they’re rarely necessary to reach the loop’s end point. For instance, in Majora’s Mask, you know that you’re constantly working towards the goal of becoming skilled enough at the game to stop the fall of the moon, or in Diablo you know that your loop is constantly improving with the goal of fighting Diablo at the bottom floor of the dungeon. However, because you know what your goal is in these loops, there’s always a direction you can force your way towards. Instead of understanding the intricacies and skills needed to beat the game, it’s possible to simply memorize the patterns of actions you need to take, or brute force your way through with saves and loads. In Groundhog Day this would be equivalent to Phil’s failed attempt at having a good date with Rita by memorizing specific pieces of information that he knows will draw her interest. Similarly, in these games you never need to achieve the goal of the loop. It’s always possible for you to give up when you die and stop playing or take a break and never come back. In Groundhog Day, this corresponds to the times Phil attempted to end the loop by dying. These sorts of solutions don’t work in the loop put forward by Groundhog Day.

In contrast, in Save the Date the only way out of the loop is to, on some level, have arrived at the loop’s purpose. Since you don’t have a specific end goal, you can’t know that the decisions you’re making are progressing you towards ending the loop. You can make what seems like progress, but ultimately it doesn’t amount to anything substantial. In the end you can’t memorize a set of decisions to progress further, because you don’t know if you’re going in the right direction in the first place. This is of course assisted by the nature of the way to end the loop, quitting the game either to imagine a good ending for yourself or to stop the bad endings from continuing to occur. Since the goal of the loops is to teach the player that they can’t rely on the author to give a satisfying ending in a collaborative storytelling experience, the endings are only achievable if the player understands this at some level and makes the choice to stop playing the game. Even if the player quits out of frustration, lack of time, or some other reason, this means they’ve implicitly understood the message, as they’ve made the decision that whatever ending is waiting for them isn’t worth the work or time they’d have to put in. In this way, Save the Date’s loop is one of the most similar to that of Groundhog Day in any piece of interactive fiction, since the only way out of it is through understanding the loop’s message.

This also ties into the way in which the deaths in Save the Date operate. For instance, in class we discussed the seeming contradiction in the fact that the game seems to be pushing the player towards being a better person towards Felicia by telling the truth but still making her death inevitable in these cases. This contradiction is resolved if we consider that the point the game is aiming for isn’t just for us to be honest with Felicia but to actually help her, which means turning off the game. In these cases, by being honest with Felicia the game helps the player reach the point where Felicia tries to dispel their misconceptions about the goal of the game. At that point, almost all paths directly tell the player that they should reset before Felicia dies or stop playing altogether. Thus, if you continue to play the game to help Felicia, you shouldn’t see her die again from this point, at most she should come close. Thus, Felicia’s deaths will continue so long as the player doesn’t understand the point the game is making but will end if they understand. There’s no sequence of decisions you could make to save her because that isn’t the way to save her.

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