13 June 2013

Friendship is Magic

One of the universals of language is that all natural languages are constantly changing. Changes can occur on several levels, though perhaps most easily recognizable are changes in meaning, e.g. a word used to mean something different in the past. The semantic change of the word gay is quite possibly one of the most famous examples. At some earlier stage in history gay had a denotative meaning very close to “light-hearted” or “carefree” or even “brightly coloured” in other contexts. Through a series of processes (e.g. specialisation) this meaning changed into “being sexually attracted to people of the same sex”. One simply has to accept the fact that linguistic change is unavoidable in any living and breathing language.

Taking a closer look at video games and modern media, it is possible to identify a slight difference in meaning when using the word friend. Tobold has talked about this phenomenon several times and I must say that I fully agree with him. The inflationary use of the American (“facebookian”) sense of the word friend slowly devalues its core meaning. Whether one considers this good or bad or neither is, at this point, irrelevant. The important part is merely to notice this development, not to arrive at a hasty conclusion of any kind. Nonetheless, I have a very hard time imagining that someone who has over 100 “friends” on Facebook actually knows them all. That number may very well be a lot lower. But then, if one does not know these people, how can they be one’s friends?

Not unrelated to the aforementioned excursion into semantics is this week’s biggest news in SW:TOR, namely the introduction of Patch 2.2 which was supposed to bring with it the option of Paid Server Transfers. Judging by the official forums and Dulfy’s coverage of the topic many people have been crying out for this for quite some time now – basically since the very beginning of the game because they want to play with their “friends” or leave their ghost towns for greener pastures.

I'm not entirely sure how pressing the issue of under-populated servers still is because, after a series of server consolidations, there are simply not that many servers left any more: 9 European servers (3 each for English, French and German players) and 8 American servers, covering the different US time zones. The Asia Pacific servers are being shut down in a few months and people there are given the option to transfer their characters to any other server free of charge. Considering the limited options, I still fail to see how one server can be seen as being vastly more populated than the others – at least from a European point of view. Maybe the situation is really different in the U.S. And maybe this entire discussion is simply a lot more important in the U.S. because the American servers may actually have very strong imbalances in server population. In a European context, however, this does make a lot less sense.

As for any real life friends, I have difficulties understanding why those real life friends would choose to play on different servers in the first place. Why would they not discuss this before even creating their first character? It may be possible that they know each other, but do not know much about each other and only discover their mutual interest in gaming at a later time. Anything is possible. Looking at this post by Green Armadillo I see no convincing argument as to why the author desperately needs to transfer his characters. Granted, he is “stranded” on a server where he does not know anyone, but I highly doubt that he could not find a single person or guild with whom he could associate. He mentions that he could “name at least three other servers where [he] would rather be playing today” were it not for the costs of transferring. I can only assume that means that he knows some people on those three serves already. Now the question remains the same: if he knew these people in real life before, why did he choose a different server as his home base? However, if they are not friends in the traditional (narrow) sense then why is he so eager to transfer to their server? What if they decide to stop playing in the near future? Then he will be left alone again – only on a different server. But then again, if they are merely “Facebook friends”, what is stopping him from making new acquaintances on his current server? I'm simply at a loss here. This might quite possibly be more of an American problem, probably due to the vastness of their country.

I fully concur, however, that SW:TOR is in a very bad position here due to the Legacy system that very strongly promotes playing only on a single server. Once a player has established a large enough Legacy there is virtually no reason at all to create a character on another server, apart from maybe some academic interest in different server cultures. This is one of the greatest shortcomings and fundamental oversights in SW:TOR. The Legacy should have been attached to a player’s account. It's a textbook case of a lost opportunity if ever there was one. During the process of account creation, one should choose a “Display name” that basically serves as the characters’ surname and Legacy name and identifies the player’s Legacy. This is the only unique name! That way all other names become freely available (charactername @ displayname). This system could also have helped avoiding the One Time Password madness by establishing two distinct names: one account name used to log into the game and the official website and one display name that functions as Legacy name for the characters and identifies the user in the forums.

In short, I consider SW:TOR’s implementation of the Legacy system to be fundamentally flawed and anyone who is not a close personal friend in the narrow sense should rather be seen as an acquaintance.

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