Safety Net Phenomena – Why is Guts So Good?

Link Eyes

What are the pros and cons of safety nets in games and how can these translate towards our daily mentalities and actions?

Guts, endure, auto-life: different names, same concept; they are all safety nets in the RPG world. I don’t know about you, but these skills have been very good to me in my gaming history. The power of the instant revival in games has been a strong force that often weaves its way into my strategies wherever possible.

I thought it would be interesting to delve a little deeper into this. What are the pros and cons of these safety nets in games and how can these translate towards our daily mentalities and actions?

So What Exactly Is Guts?

All of the abilities above are skills in RPGs that bring a character back to life the moment he/she dies. They vary in use and limitations, but all of them act as a cushion to fall back on when times get rough.

My first interaction with one of these kinds of abilities was in the game Valkyrie Profile with the skill Guts, and oh what a first impression it left. I do not think in all my years of gaming since, I have found a skill that has had more of an impact on a game. The skill activated sporadically, and would revive an ally at 1 HP when he/she died.

Late game bosses often entailed sitting through pretty animations that spelled complete decimation of my brother’s team, with both of us just chanting “GUTS GUTS GUTS” to keep the glimmer of hope alive. Time after time, it provided. The best little glimmer of hope a gamer could ever wish for.

Other series have done similar things that vary in value. For example, many games in the Final Fantasy series have had an auto-life spell; I cast it on my characters and it lasts until they die, at which point it revives them. The Shin Megami Tensei games have gone with the ability “Endure” (at least the recent ones I have played). This is a passive ability that stops an ally from dying once per battle leaving them with 1 HP.

The Pros

What exactly is so good about these abilities?

The Uplifting Nature of the Ability to Hold On

There is something truly beautiful about those moments just praying for guts. When the dust settles and the damage totals wipe an entire team and yet somehow I am still standing. It gives me a rush of the power of will with the ability to cling to life, and makes me reconsider what a max HP really means. Sometimes, we can be much more than that number.

Sometimes, we can be much more than that number.

The Wake-Up Call

The dichotomous situation of life before the death versus after the death presents a meaningful change within the battle. These skills that have a guaranteed revival often allow the gamer to play with slightly more risky strategies that could get the job done more effectively before the death. Then it forces the player to reconsider the core survival tactics once that safety net is pulled away. Thus it creates a realm to explore possibilities but also presents a wake-up call before it is too late. The best part of this, is that it creates a chance to explore strategies within the fiction of the game; we do not have to die and restart to try something new.

Thus it creates a realm to explore possibilities but also presents a wake-up call before it is too late.

Overkill Does Not Matter

An important factor to keep in mind when strategizing is the fact that overkill does not matter. So much of an RPG is this balance between character HPs and enemy output; we try to balance likelihood of certain attacks and consider the outcomes to make sure our characters survive. But the moment I hit zero, that fine balancing of HP and output disappear.

If an enemy blasts me for 30,000 damage and my max life is 9,999, then there is a solid 20,000 damage buffer of not caring. At that point I know that I have to rely on the safety net. I can ignore life saving antics and adjust a strategy accordingly.

Getting a Foothold

In some games, these reviving abilities are crucial to getting a strategy up and running. In Shin Megami Tensei, for example, it is important on some of the harder bosses to get buffs and debuffs active as soon as possible. Often magic inclined characters with lower HP get picked off quickly before these buffs are operational. With Endure, however, they get the extra turn to stabilize, and that is often all they need.

The Cons

These skills of perseverance aren’t all positive though. There are some downsides to consider as well.

Wasted Resources

Some games force the player to utilize these skills with attacks that deal damages in multiples of my max life, but often times these safety nets are not a necessity. In these cases, utilizing them often entails wasted resources.

Having Endure as one of my 8 skills in Shin Megami Tensei leaves one less spot open for another skill. That other skill could be essential to survival in the first place. Similarly, in Final Fantasy games, using a turn to place an auto-life on a character takes MP and an action. If a strategy could alternatively just keep me alive, these resources seem like a waste.

Taking it for Granted

While the pre/post wakeup call dichotomy I talked about above is a nice best case scenario, often what happens is that we take it for granted. We play lazily until that safety net is stripped out from under us and then we start caring, but it is too late. This is even worse when it becomes second hand nature and take the existence of the nets for granted. Whenever one of my people in Shin Megami Tensei 4 that didn’t have endure died, I was often left awestruck, having 100% assumed they would pop back up.

While the pre/post wakeup call dichotomy I talked about above is a nice best case scenario, often what happens is that we take it for granted.

The Quick Redeath

Many of these abilities leave the character at half or one HP, so there are additional resources used to secure survival after the death. Additionally, often enemies or bosses have multiple attacks of some sort and can quickly re-kill the character before I can stabilize at all. If this is the case, it magnifies the two problems above. I am wasting resources and resting on a crutch that is basically a faulty safety net.

Safety Nets In Life

Similar safety nets, though many less life-or-death-esque, exist in our daily lives. Maybe this is as simple as a good excuse we keep as a get out of jail free card (if we are playing Monopoly, maybe it IS a get out of jail free card), a two goal lead in a game of soccer, a back-up college or job offer, or perhaps an airbag or climber’s harness. Maybe there is even a safety net we do not know we have and only become privy to during a near death experience.

Many of the pros and pitfalls I talked about above are relevant to consider with these real life safety nets. So let’s REWIND!!!

The Quick Redeath

In life this generally relates to a faulty safety net. There are things in life that we think will save us in a pinch, but instead fail. On the drastic side this could be a mechanical fault, like a parachute failing or an airbag not deploying. On the more emotional side, this could just be a friend not being empathetic when I need them to be. Either way, we set up our safety nets with the expectation that they will work, and when they fail it could hurt the most.

Either way, we set up our safety nets with the expectation that they will work, and when they fail it could hurt the most.

Taking it for Granted

Sometimes, we get extremely lackadaisical when we know that there is a net that can support a hard fall. I remember going into a final presentation in one of my business school classes having amazing grades on both of the class tests. I did not totally blow off the presentation, but definitely could have put in a lot more effort. Ultimately, it came back to bite me in the ass hard. I missed key facts about the case and my grade reflected it.

Wasted Resources

I think one of the best examples of this is applying to schools and jobs that we do not really want. Everyone likes to have a school or job to fall back on while they reach for their dream and stretch goals. Often times though, the only way to get those stretch goals is by showing that school or company that they are NUMBER 1! This becomes much harder when they ask what other firms I applied to and I spurt off a list of backups.

Getting a Foothold

Imagine how hard it would be to steel ourselves in a new job if there was a fear of being fired within the first week, or what it would be like to learn to drive in a car that exploded if we stalled. These expectations we have that messing up once or twice will not bring fatal ramifications are key at easing into new tasks or cultures.

Overkill Does Not Matter

Many things in life run on a booleanesque yes/no system. We get the job or we don’t get the job, we make it across the tightrope or we fall off the tightrope, we pass a test or we fail a test (thinking more standardized tests where a grade doesn’t matter). There is no overkill; unless I do something outrageously stupid, an employer isn’t going to not hire me and then put me on a blacklist where no one will ever consider me again.

Assuming the fail-safe is set up appropriately, having that security can help go above and beyond and blossom high risk, high reward activities that nurture creativity. Maybe this means writing a crazy application for a super stretch university, having some random facts on a resume or jumping for a rock ledge that is outside of our reach. A flashy application may be risky. It could come across as juvenile, but if done correctly and with the right reader it could put the unobtainable within reach.

Assuming the fail-safe is set up appropriately, having that security can help go above and beyond and blossom high risk, high reward activities that nurture creativity.

The Wake-Up Call

That best case scenario dichotomy I talked about above definitely matters outside of the game world as well. There are always lessons to learn from taking on tasks with a little less fear of failure, but then it is so helpful having a distinct moment that makes us aware that failure will be costly.

A good example of this is a draft deliverable in an English class. Maybe we get graded on it, maybe not, but either way we want it to be good so that we can get strong, constructive feedback on the paper instead of some kind of “Try harder”. But at the same time, we can feel more at ease to introduce crazy ideas and get a chance to see how the teacher takes to them. If the teacher does not like them, no harm, just take the ideas out. If they do like them, than we can expand and elaborate.

The Uplifting Nature of the Ability to Hold On

Last, but certainly not least, is humans’ willpower to survive. Time and time again we see stories of amazing feats against terrible odds. It is a basic instinct of living creatures to survive, and we are pretty damn good at it. We have seen it in local news, we have seen it engraved in history (the words of Holocaust survivors as one of many examples), and many of us may have seen glimpses of it in ourselves. Endure, guts, whatever you want to call it, it is a beacon of hope and optimism in society.

We have seen it in local news, we have seen it engraved in history (the words of Holocaust survivors as one of many examples), and many of us may have seen glimpses of it in ourselves.

Wrapping it up!

Thank for enduring through this article! I know it takes some guts to read through a long blog post ;). What was your first experience with one of these kinds of abilities in a game? Was it a super useful ability for you, or not so much? What do you think about my list of pros and cons when it comes to safety nets? Which pros or cons have had the most impact on your life? Let me know what you guys think in the comments below!

That’s all for now! Game on and Learn On!

~Dyl

5 thoughts on “Safety Net Phenomena – Why is Guts So Good?

  1. wylliamjudd

    One of the interesting things about this kind of ability is that it’s not equally good on any kind of character. For example, a character that is especially good at regenerating their own HP, like Warwick or Akali in LoL benefit more from this ability. Conversely, high HP high armor characters benefit very little from it.

    Reply
    1. connorbros Post author

      Good point! There is definitely that added level of strategy around it in certain games. Dust pointed out that it can be hard from a design perspective because it let’s the player ignore many of the rules of the system they give you. Playing with the post revival relevance considering character stats and skills is a good way to try to balance and integrate it as a skill I think.

      ~Dyl

      Reply
  2. wzackw

    Have you played BoF4? One character, Ursula, had a much higher chance of coming back to life (guts) than any other character. Seems like almost 40%. I thought it added to her character’s personality (a determined soldier) and is a nice strength since death is a huge deal in BoF4 (sometimes the spell to bring characters back from the dead fails >_<).

    Reply
    1. connorbros Post author

      I started it, but never got through it! 😦 I think my friend had it or rented it so I played it at his place for one or two good runs, but I don’t really think I put a dent in it. One of the very few games I have played and not completed. That is really cool though. Varying it between characters seems like a great way to ingrate the skill and give it more meaning within the fiction of those characters, more than the abstracted nature of revival.

      On a side note, it’s so frustrating when a revive spell misses!?!?!

      ~Dyl

      Reply

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