Ahhh…another feedback column. It’s a bit odd, looking back at the list of installments…there are so many of them now. I have to say, when I started this column, I never expected it to hit the nerve it did.

    I was looking at a recent edition of Computer Gaming World just yesterday. Most of the reader mail amounted to compliments or hate mail, usually surrounding a game review. One or two letters were about the format of the magazine. As I read it, I realized just how lucky I am. Every installment that gets posted fills my email box, and while I have gotten my share of straight compliments, I’ve also received insights from scientists, various professionals, some of whom work in the computer game industry, and even from somebody in the Department of Defense working on sentience research!

    I guess that’s what makes my readers special. Rather than just getting fan mail, I get people expressing their opinions, examining the issues I’ve raised, and often catching something I missed. Let’s just say that whenever a column gets posted, I can’t wait to see what mail comes from it.

    And, on that note, I will start shuffling through the mailbag.

    Installment 29 (Will You Be Eating That Ration?) brought in some interesting letters. Brian Postow was one of several people who pointed out that I had missed a game named Nethack, which had its own way of dealing with eating:

    “Now, where food enters into it is that if you don’t eat anything, you get weak, and die (unless you pray to your god and s/he gives you a miracle). There is SOME food laying around, some of it in cans, some of it in rations. However, the vast majority of the food is the monsters that you kill. You kill a kobold, you eat a kobold. However, be careful, if you eat a bat, you can go blind! If you eat a mushroom, you may start to hallucinate (you have no idea what monsters or items are there, so you might accidentally kill your pet dog or cat). And, if you accidentally eat your pet your god hates you and curses you or something. You also have to make sure that your pet eats, otherwise he gets very angry.”

    Eric McCann mentioned a game that actually did involve going to the washroom: The Sims. After wondering how anybody could possibly get hooked on a game that basically simulated real life, he wrote:

    “I figured the reason the characters in so many RPGs were so powerful was that they’d been ‘holding it’ for a few hours/days/weeks and just wanted to kill something so they could end the game and find the washroom.”

    That’s the best explanation for a high level Zeal attack I’ve ever heard…

    Installment 30, an examination of how language has developed online, brought in some interesting responses. Chris Jeu wrote:

    “Due to the former large population of Koreans found on the USWest realm of Battle.net, now, it is a major insult to be called a Korean or a ‘gook’ (I’m not even sure if this slur means Korean). Now, whenever someone causes a nuisance inside a game, it is common for them to be referred to in this manner. Is it the anonymity of being online that brings the worst out of some people? Racism/sexism/sexual orientation bias is quite ubiquitous online.”

    Another reader had a different view on the subject of offensive online language (not counting racial slurs), suggesting that it was merely a matter of emphasis…the stronger the language, the greater the degree of what happened.

    The language column brought in a host of really interesting letters, and I wish I could quote them all (as it is, I have at least a dozen letters tagged as worthy of quoting). I’m going to close the book on issue number 30 with this letter from Julien Van Reeth:

    “In France (yep, I’m French) there is a debate on spelling; should we ‘rejuvenate’ our language and change the way our words are spelled? French spelling is a lot more complicated (NOT meaning better, mark me) than the English one; and a lot of exceptions make it difficult to master. The point is, with the apparition of the Internet and the e-mail, more and more people are finding writing in a ‘phonetical’ way easier and faster to do. This, added to a growing feeling of the young people being more and more illiterate (thanks to video games, of course), brought the old ‘let’s renew our language’ debate on the table again.”

    After writing a bit about how the spelling of a word may be a part of its history, Julien finishes the letter by adding:

    “This is not exactly the same problem as the meaning of a word changing, but it’s quite the same view on the language: what does it represent for you? Is it just a tool, and so ‘working’ it, improving it to make it more efficient, is right and even recommended, or does it stand for more? I guess on the Internet, it is more of a tool; and I find it very interesting also, because we are living in a time where language is as fast-changing as it has never been.

    “Now whether you’re in favor of stability and tradition or evolution and convenience is entirely up to you!”

    Installment 31, A Matter of Habit, brought in less mail than I thought it would, but some of the letters were quite good. Perhaps the best came from Steve Wilson, a man with training from the Canadian military in recognizing addictions and addictive behavior, who wrote:

    “Any person involved in dealing with real addictions will tell you that abstaining from the subject of the addiction for two weeks means absolutely nothing if a person returns to exactly the same pattern of addiction once the two weeks are done.

    “Using your example a person who drinks 10 beer every second night, and completely ignores his/her responsibilities to his/her family would not be considered ‘addicted’ to the beer if he/she managed to survive through 2 weeks of abstinence.

    “The methods you suggest for determining ‘addiction’ only work if there is an actual physical addiction as there would be with drugs or alcohol.

    “Addressing the issues of addiction without physical symptoms requires dealing with the social problems caused by that addiction, and IMO, a two week break only to return to the original behavior cannot be used as a gauge of whether or not a person is ‘addicted’ to gaming.”

    One very important aspect this letter brings out is the difficulty in judging the intangible. Unfortunately, computer gaming counts as a psychological condition, rather than a physical one. It is not something easily measured. Is somebody a true addict if they can willingly abstain? My viewpoint would be that they aren’t. On the other hand, what does it mean if they can walk away, but as soon as the time is up return to their old habit, as strong as before? I don’t really have any answers there, but I’d love to find out more.

    Installment 32 was an examination of hardcore gamely, with a suggestion that it would be a good thing to have in an MMORPG. One reader, who signed his name as “TD,” pointed out that there is indeed a hardcore MMORPG on the horizon named Atriarch. John Edward Zamarra also mentioned Atriarch, and added The 4th Coming to the list, which apparently has a hardcore mode, depending on which server you are using.

    The issue also caused a fair amount of debate, with lots of letters coming in for and against hardcore play. Andre Haftervani wrote in with several good counterpoints, but the most interesting was:

    “[A] vital issue with allowing a ‘hardcore’ option is that it divides the Diablo 2 community. While I have seen little animosity between those who play PvP and those who play the game in PvM, the same is not true of the separate ‘hardcore’ and the ‘softcore’ communities. Those who play single-player mostly and those who play online don’t have much problems with each other either while I have seen many elitist ‘hardcore’ players who think that they are so much better than all ‘softcore’ players (despite the fact that hardcore players in general are not actually more intelligent or mature players as they constantly insinuate or outright claim).”

    Bill Langford, an Everquest player, felt I was right off my rocker when it comes to hardcore play for MMORPGs. He wrote:

    “MMORPGs like Everquest require too much time to actually become a strong character to risk losing them in one brief second. Dragons would be impossible for a hardcore character. So much of the game would be out of your ability because the chance of dying would be nearly 100%. MMORPGs don’t need a hardcore option.”

    Installment 33, One Film to Rule Them All, was rather odd as far as reader response went. Far more people were interested in writing about the column that was going to be coming next than seemed to actually care about the effects of Lord of the Rings. However, there were some. Dave Caspermeyer wrote to point out that the timing was all-important for Lord of the Rings…had it been released a few years ago, it might not have done as well.

    Dave raises a very good point. Fellowship was released mere months after the destruction of the World Trade Center…timing so good as to be almost miraculous.

    I would love to quote Mike Connor’s letter, which talked very intelligently about the appeal of fantasy, but I just don’t have the room. You see, now I have to deal with the feedback from Installment 34: Is Diablo Dead?

    I literally got a flood of letters regarding this topic, but just before I handle them, I want to deal with a bit of ironic history first. Less than forty-eight hours after the issue was posted, Blizzard announced that it was going to do almost exactly what I suggested. So, Diablo might not be on the way out after all. It might get the run it deserves. What can I say? I love happy endings.

    Now, onto the letters. I don’t think I’ve seen this many letters on a single subject since Walking with the Dead. There are so many I would like to quote, but I only have room for three or four, and to all those who wrote in, I will say that it was almost impossible to choose them. While most people agreed with me, there were a share of people who blamed Blizzard for letting down the customer. One or two people wrote in with detailed plans on how to fix the problem, and one person wrote in and pointed out that the only thing he had ever seen law enforcement do was create the need for more law enforcement. However, some readers thought I had missed something. Jeffrey Ludwig, who plays almost exclusively single player, wrote a wonderful letter that sheds some extra light on the matter. After pointing out that market competition and console games have had an impact, he writes:

    “I think Diablo II may have been too ambitious a project to succeed as totally as some other games have. Its deceptively simple skill system is such a leviathan in terms of trying to maintain game balance that players are never as satisfied with it as they were with simpler, but tighter, games, such as Diablo I. I think this is amply reflected in the numerous game changes that Blizzard has instituted in its patches, attempting to appease an insatiable crowd of critics.”

    Michiel Otting brought up another point that I think is very worthy of note, suggesting that much of Diablo II has come to revolve around power-gaming. This takes away from the fun of the game, causing it to all revolve around acquiring experience just so that one can create an uber-character.

    Finally, Kevin Bishop took the time to write in on the side of a certain level of non-legit players:

    “I am no saint on the realms; I do use a ‘hack’ myself. I use the Map hack, and while anyone and everyone can justify their reasoning… my whole entire reason is I enjoy seeing what I’m doing. The Map hack allows a light setting so I can see everything rather than being concealed in a shroud of darkness. This isn’t hacking. It’s breaking the rules sure. But in my mind I have earned the right to see after beating all three modes and being at a character level of 81.”

    And with that, I will close my mailbag for now. Until next time, my dear readers. And remember, I may not always have time to answer your mail, but I love getting it, and savor every single letter. Keep reading, keep writing, and keep your minds sharp.

    Next installment: A Question of Rights?, in which the author examines the legal matter of BNetD.

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