You know what the best thing about video games is? The freedom to do whatever you want. You're not necessarily bound to perform the task the game gives you; nothing's stopping you from repeatedly playing that particular minigame over and over again, spending hours fighting irrelevant monsters or even getting yourself into some mischief. While most games attempt to deter you from committing heinous acts by punishing your character in various ways, for some players, it isn't enough. So what if the punishment ends up being that you lost some money, disbarred from a particular location, or even the game straight up killing you? You can regain that money, wait out your sentence, and just restart your game—really, it's no big deal. Even if the punishment were to go further than that, it's nothing a little Save Scumming can't fix, right?
Well, what if the game had the ability to take that away as well?
Here is the last resort of a video game to set you straight: Threaten to delete your save data. It's most likely to catch even the most unaffected player's attention, as this particular punishment violates the secure barrier between game and player. Sure, it seems like a cardinal sin a game designer would put upon a player to actually go that far, but still—the player brought it upon themself.
This trope specifically applies to games that actually have (or fakes) the capacity to erase its own save data (save actually going through the game options and deleting the data through there) as a result of the player's in-game actions.
A lot of games likely won't follow through with it, but would you, the player, actually take that chance?
- In Card Shark, if you die and allow Death to win, they will offer to either take your money and return you to the world above, or they will eat your soul. Choosing the latter option completely erases your save file.
- In Cult of the Lamb, should you have no followers left, the game will end after 2 in game days if you don't recruit any followers and your save file will be deleted, because a shepherd can't survive without a flock.
- In Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, the main character develops a rot on her arm that progresses steadily farther up each time she dies. The player is informed after the first, plot-mandated, death that she will die permanently (i.e. save file is erased) if the rot reaches her head, with no indication given how many deaths that will take. This is a fake-out to put first-time players in the character's mindframe. The rot will only reach her head at the end of the story, and it ends up being a positive for Senua as it comes with finally accepting her beloved's death.
- Early versions of An Untitled Story would delete save files whose data didn't correspond to their checksum. This was basically meant to prevent players from tampering with the save files.
- In the 2014 release of One Shot, as of v1.003, quitting the game before reaching a save point would erase your save data. This is still more merciful than the original version, where quitting the game would kill the protagonist dead forever, preventing you from ever playing again.
- In Banjo-Kazooie, Bottles threatens to delete your save file if you talk to him too many times after claiming to know all of the game's basic moves — luckily he backs down after Banjo apologizes. Unfortunately, Gruntilda absolutely WILL erase your save file if you ignore her final warning and use more than two cheat codes that let you bypass the various Note Doors and level entrances. note Fortunately, cheats that give infinite power-ups or remove certain obstacles do not trigger any punishment in the original Nintendo 64 version. The Xbox 360 version of the game does have a still severe but decidedly less harsh punishment of disabling saving if any cheats are inputted - even the infinite power-up cheats.
- In Bravely Second, the False God Providence, after Breaking the Fourth Wall, insulting the party as mere puppets to the player, and engaging in some Interface Screw, tries to do this. Yew manages to stop him, instead giving him a Patrick Stewart Speech for his trouble.
- Present in EarthBound (1994) as the final routine in the game's well-known Copy Protection. If you make it to the final boss, the game hangs. Resetting or turning your SNES off and then back on reveals that all your saves have been erased, which makes that sought-after RPG not worth playing on a counterfeit cartridge!
- Fallen London has Seeking Mr Eaten's Name, a treacherous questline that demands that you sacrifice everything—your character's stats, finances, reputation, life, and soul—just to progress through it. In the end, completing the questline renders your account unplayable. Permanently.
- Even before the end of the questline, a point in Seeking Mr Eaten's Name also allows you to take a certain action that the game warns you is completely optional and will kill your character, even remarking that you don't even get any flavor text worth reading if you take that action. It doesn't actually kill your character. It instead rewards you for taking the Schmuck Bait with a unique cosmetic award.
- Yoko Taro tends to do this a lot:
- In NieR, to get the final ending where Kaine is saved, Nier must choose to have his existence erased, including everyone's memories of him. If you do choose this, the game erases all of your save data, and doesn't even allow you to choose the same name if you start a new game. It does give you three or four "Are You Sure You Want to Do That?" warnings, first and asks you to input the name you gave him in the beginning, though. The remake inverts this, by helping Kaine revive Nier, you bring back the save data that was deleted in Ending D.
- Just like its predecessor, NieR: Automata does this too. In ending E, to stop a massive data purge and save the lives of the three main characters, you have to get through by far the most grueling shooter section in the game in the form of Mini-Game Credits. It starts off manageable, but is incredibly overtuned to the point where you will die, again and again, and combined with condescending and downbeat messages from the game, it appears unwinnable. However, you start to get messages from other players who have beaten it - Encouraging statements in the same vein of the death messages...Culminating in you receiving a Rescue Offer from one of these players. If you take them up on it, you get a halo of extra ships around you, each representing one the players who messaged you earlier, rendering you unkillable and incredibly powerful. When the fight ends, though, you discover that all of your rescuers have deleted their save data to save you. You are then given the option to do the same, provided you leave an encouraging message. Much like NieR before it, you are given about five different opportunities to change your mind, but it WILL do it if you comply. And unlike the previous game's remake, you cannot recover unless you restore a save from backup, which also undoes the memorial on the new title screen to commemorate your sacrifice. Yes, this actually means that to truly 100% the game, you must sacrifice your save.
- Even gacha games aren't safe either; in the Taiwanese server of SINoALICE made available roughly a week before the game server is closed, the final chapter has Parrah and Noya commenting on how bad the situation in the main story got with everyone dead and Alice barely clinging on to what's left of her sanity, to the point where they request you, the player, to save them. The story proper has Alice following the White Rabbit into a labyrinth after offing a bunch of Nightmares, in a Call-Back to how her story began. In the labyrinth are comments on doors written by the other Characters. As she keeps avoiding the doors because she felt like they were calling her out, she slowly succumbs to despair as she tries to avoid the painful reality and got to the point where she could only cry out for help. Before proceeding to the very end, the heads of Parrah and Noya realize the purpose of your arrival to the Library - in the form of a key representing hope. This key will save Alice and everyone else but it will destroy the Library in the process; in other words your account will be gone and you'll no longer be able to log in again. Should you proceed (after sending 1 final message to your guild), Alice will realize that she wasn't alone in her uphill battle to revive her author; you were with her all this time. She then teams up with you on a very difficult solo battle against all of the (revealed) Nightmare versions of the Characters, including herself. Upon clearing that and viewing the last cutscene which reveals that it was All Just a Dream by her Reality self, the game will be restarted, and tapping on the "tap to play" area will show a message informing the player that the world of Library and all of the worlds in it has been purified. Time will tell if something similar will happen to the Japanese and Global servers...
- In Undertale:
- After defeating Asgore for the first time, a major plot twist happens and you're forced to restart the game. When you do, the first thing you see is a save point... and interacting with it causes Flowey, now hopped up on the six human SOULs to erase it right in front of your eyes, saying: "Oh, and forget about escaping to your old SAVE FILE. It's gone FOREVER." He gives it back when you defeat him, though.
- At the end of a Genocide run, the first human shows up and destroys the game. Starting it back up yields a blank screen. After you wait several minutes, the first human shows up and lets you back in, but at a price.
- In Lose/Lose, dying causes the entire game to delete itself. That being said, for every enemy you kill, the game permanently deletes one of your computer's files chosen at random, which can include system-critical files — playing the game at all is this trope in itself. The game's disclaimer and website at least warns you about all this.
- Should you choose to face down the True Final Boss of ZeroRanger, then you'll have to give up all of your continues in an all or nothing gamble to go back in time to destroy the Lotus Jewel; the more continues you lose, the more lives you'll be given to fight the True Final Boss. Once you win, the continuity will change into one that's leading to the Golden Ending (Earth is saved forever and the pilot is able to return home!); totally losing that battle will cause your game to be over and delete all your progress! You are warned about this, being told "Only one shot", and seeing the thing with your continues break in the process.
- The Resettis from Animal Crossing will show up to lecture you if you don't save your game properly before quitting and even threaten to delete your save file. They can't actually do it, though.
- LHX Attack Chopper has one save file. If you die your savegame is deleted. Even when you abort the mission in enemy territory, there's a chance that you can be killed trying to escape or just plain wind up missing in action.
- Did you fail to eject in time during an emergency in Steel Battalion? Kiss your save file goodbye! Ejected in time, but don't have enough money to replace your mech? You lose the save file anyway!
- Towards the end of Inscryption, there's a variation on this trope, as it threatens to delete files on your computer other than the game itself. One of P03's Uberbot battles makes you select files from your computer, and will create cards based on the age and size of the data selected. If that card then gets defeated, P03 claims he'll delete the original file as well...though it turns out he doesn't actually have that privilege, and just leaves a message politely asking you to delete it yourself. If you do, you get an achievement for it.
- Joke programming language Vigil deletes parts of "misbehaving" source code.
- The website Write or Die has a mode that deletes your work if you don't write quickly enough.