Winners Always Quit, and Quitters Always Win—If It's in a Video Game

After he carded a seven, then got the dreaded snowman on a par 5, then a six and a double-bogey on a par 3, I half expected to see Rory McIlroy slink off the green, feigning tooth pain. He'd come into this final round atop the leaderboard at 10-under par, and now saw all of that vaporized in the first four holes of a disastrous Sunday.

"Look, let's just forget this round," I offered. "I don't want this to be an ordeal for you."

"No, really, I'm having fun," said my friend, who was struggling to hit the fairway with McIlroy in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14. "I just need to learn what I'm doing here."

McIlroy's avatar won't unwrap his golf glove and stalk away if he's seven over par after eight holes, as he did earlier this month when he bailed on the Honda Classic, which earned him quite the public scolding. But quitting, giving up or dogging it are still very much a part of the game, the way it is a part of any video game, sports especially. Few days go by when I don't abort out of a bad round and restart. It's to be expected when a very competitive person is also placed in total control of the competition.

While McIlroy is in a sense a professional entertainer, and people bought tickets to this tournament to watch him play, he didn't do anything dishonest (his excuse about a toothache notwithstanding). On the other hand, when I quit, it's often to take a mulligan—to undo the result that made me quit in the first place, whether I'm playing golf, baseball or American football. And I have noticed that this kind of quitting is getting more difficult in sports video games, or at least more inconvenient, particularly in the career modes.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 doesn't make it easy on you to abandon a round, even if I still do it. In a career event, you don't get to simply quit. You may only "save and quit," and if you've started a round, tough luck, your career will not continue until you complete it. You may restart a round in a career event, but if you've played a dozen holes and have no shot at a top 10 finish or a win, the decision is more agonizing than you'd think: Take a mulligan and do all of that work all over again? Or cash in and go a full year before your golfer has a shot at winning The Masters?

Time was, the quit option in a sports video game would offer the chance to restart the game right there. I especially remember this in old Maddens and 2K Sports games. (Madden NFL 09 and 10 even included a do-over option that could line-item veto the previous play.) Convenient restart options are longer the case in either, and now games are taking it a step further to keep you honest. In MLB 13 The Show, there's now an auto-save overwriting your main file whenever you return from a career game to the Road to the Show menu. It preserves whatever you just did, however awful it was, before you have a chance to reload an old save. If you want to avoid that, you must quit to the XMB or power off the console and reboot the entire game, which takes forever.

Quitting to replay a bad game in MLB The Show's Road to the Show is so laborious and time consuming, it has to be a deliberate design choice. I feel like the game is sending a message: Your ass is either finishing that game and taking the consequences, or you are rebooting the entire thing. And the godawful load times of MLB The Show are enough to make me reconsider an urge to quit in any Road to the Show game, even when manager is handling my pitch count in a manner that would make Dusty Baker grimace.

In MLB The Show's Franchise and Season modes, you may quit back to the menu and lose all of your progress (or lack thereof) in a game. Yet there's also an interesting "Exit Game" option that requires you to simulate to the end of the game before leaving. What's the difference between quitting and exiting? Starting all over, and giving up. In this sense, McIlroy didn't quit, he exited, bearing the consequences. He didn't get to restart his round, of course, and the public beating he took was worse than any reputational demerit you could get for quitting on a multiplayer match.

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Not that my opinion of it mattered at the time, but I wouldn't condemn McIlroy for doing something that plays out dozens of times in my own living room. He ragequit. It's that simple and that sympathetic. I'd probably feel a lot differently if McIlroy had walked out on a major tournament, but then, I have pledged never to quit a video game round at Augusta National since the course was introduced two years ago, and if there's any redemption for me in a long career of quitting, I've stuck to that at least.

Why? It really has nothing to do with sportsmanship or honoring one of the game's most renowned courses. It's because I want my experience to be authentic. That's why quitting, especially quitting to restart, is such a painful process today in sports video games: In a long season, in which you're supposed to cope with defeat and setback, the act punctures the realism and the immersion that these design teams have worked so hard to deliver.

It's why McIlroy's walk-off, despite the handwringing, didn't really hurt his game, but me punching a power button, and starting all over to undo history, hurts mine.

Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games. It appears Sundays.