Letter From The Director: I Am Not The Director

Letter From The Director

Did you know that if you search for "Letter from the Director" in our search engine, you’ll pull up a game called "My Little Flufties?" What has Billy been writing about?

Fearless Leader is in Dallas for Quakecon this weekend, so I’ve been given the green light to cover his weekly column while he and Leahy exchange long dissertations on the merits of national health care over the BYOC area’s super-fast network. I also heard something about a rodeo.

I usually find out what Billy’s column is about late in the day on Friday, when he gives Patrick the final draft at 5:58PM for proofreading and the rest of us are halfway to the local watering hole. But this week has been so jammed full of planning for GamesCom in Germany, BlizzCon in Anaheim, PAX in Seattle, and even Tokyo Game Show (in Tokyo, I believe), that I haven’t had the proper time to develop a thoughtful topic of conversation.

So let’s talk about us. Or more specifically, let’s talk about friendship.

Earlier this week, we broke the story that the reason why the Xbox Live friends list is limited to 100 spots is due to a small but fervent population of Halo 2 players. Because that game uses the old Xbox Live infrastructure (a good word to use if, like me, you have no idea about the actual technology), and about 10,000 people are still playing it regularly, Microsoft is reluctant to pull the plug and raise the limit. That means the 101st closest person in your life will continue to be shut out in the cold, playing against the computer in UNO and wishing that they were invited to your Weekend at Bernie’s II viewing party.

Outrageous, right?  …right?

Many of you didn’t seem to think so. "That’s only for you guys in the media," you protested. Point granted — working in a profession that requires a large majority of the staff to be actively playing video games tends to quickly inflate your friend roster. Even more so if we’re switching jobs and meeting new co-workers who are even more adept at destroying us in Left 4 Dead, as most of us new guys at G4 are finding out. And not only that, we regularly get to meet readers and community members who are deemed list-worthy.

"But 100 friends? And you really need more?"

Yes, really. There a few things to understand about this argument, and they hinge on the ever-evolving definition of friendship. It is perfectly normal and acceptable to have a friends list comprised of anywhere between 1 and 10, or 20, or 80, or 2 people. It’s also fine to disregard online aspects of gaming altogether, if that’s your prerogative. You don’t need me to tell you that, it’s just to get it on the record.

But social networking’s influence, combined with the nature of online gaming that existed well before Facebook, arguably makes "Friends List" a misnomer. When you first start out on MySpace or Facebook, you begin with the people who are closest to you. Then the viral aspect kicks in, and you start finding friends of friends, people you haven’t seen since college or high school, people you meet through work…suddenly your Facebook "friends" list turns into an inventory of every person you’ve met in your life. If you’re on the uphill slope of life, this hasn’t happened to you yet — but it will.

For a lot of people, even outside of the people who write about games for a living, this is how Xbox Live/PSN/Steam works. You meet someone on a forum or in a game, discover that they’re among the .05% of the population that is bearable playing with, and the ball starts rolling. The key difference with a gaming list, though, is that the people you’re playing with depends on the game. If you’re into sports and shooters, you’re going to need quite a few people you can rely on to not just be available to play when you are, but play competently. (Those of you who have experienced a World of Warcraft PUG should be nodding your heads right about now.) It’s been mentioned by frustrated Live users that sub-lists for particular games would be a welcome upgrade, and that’s not a bad idea.

The point is, having a limit is an issue to more people than you might think. And to look at it logically, assuming you’re not one of the 10,000 souls who just can’t quit Halo 2, how does the removal of the limit affect you in such a way that you’d argue against it?

Case in point: me. The big end-of-column reveal is that even though I work in the games media, I keep my friends list somewhat trim compared to my colleagues. I’ll probably never hit 100, but I understand Patrick’s frustration every time he has to cull someone from his list — a legitimate person he would play games with — to make room for a new addition. It doesn’t make sense. We know it, Microsoft knows it, and now what’s left of the Halo 2 community knows it.

(Not your fault, guys. But have you heard about the new Halo that just came out? It’s supposed to be pretty good, too.)

Halo 2 Multiplayer Screenshot

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