I was a pretty late adopter of cell phones. I don’t really like talking on the phone, and phones at the time were just that – a bit big and clunky, nothing like the smart phones of today. They didn’t have games or any other distractions. I finally gave in to the cell phone trend when I moved away from home to go to college. My Mom insisted I needed one since I was moving to a larger city, as a safety measure. I got a “Pay as you go” type and hardly ever used the minutes on it.
Moving to the city was in itself a transition for me. I came from a town of about 70,000 people and moved to my city just as it was marking its millionth citizen. It’s not the biggest city, but it was a pretty large adjustment! As I made my way around my new city, exploring the downtown, taking the train and the buses, I was struck by a feeling: No one knew where I was. This wasn’t a scary realization, rather, it was liberating. In my old town, you couldn’t go to the grocery store without running into at least three people that you knew. This used to drive me crazy, especially because my mother worked at a school and knew hundreds of kids and their parents. It used to irritate me because I just wanted to go through the cereal aisle or whatever without having to always stop and chat. In my new city where I knew so few people, I could have a coffee, go draw in the botanical gardens, spend hours wandering around on my own and no one would bother me. I loved it.
I still carried my cell phone with me. But my distaste for it was driven home after an altercation with my father. Frustrated that he couldn’t reach me, he complained: “You never answer your cell phone! What’s the point of even having it?” I told him in no uncertain terms that I had a phone for emergencies and in case I needed to reach anyone. It was not a guaranteed way to get in touch with me. I wasn’t going to be at anyone’s beck and call. This was over ten years ago, mind you. Since I first reluctantly brought my clunky phone in my purse, smart phones and constant internet access have become an expectation. Twitter, e-mail, text messages, Facebook messages, instant messages and cell phones give people almost immediate access to each other. The introduction of Real ID into the Blizzard family of games lets you play with all of your friends – and don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic. But there are a few drawbacks.
The stoic refusal to introduce an invisible mode into Real ID (and now, I assume, Battle Tags within Diablo) has been a constant thorn in my side. Like when I first explored the city unattached, sometimes I want to play a game without someone knowing where I am. Suppose I wanted to roleplay on another server for awhile – all of my Real ID friends can see my character name, server, and zone. If I want to login to my bank alt and just spend some time auctioning, everyone can see that too. Even if I just want to make a silly lowbie alt and play quietly by myself, I can’t do that. I’m far from the first person to bemoan the lack of an “invisible” mode with Real ID. The counter-argument is, “Why are you playing an MMO if you don’t want to talk to people? Just don’t use Real ID if you don’t want anyone to bother you.” But that seems really ridiculous to me, and overly simplistic. A person might go to a coffee shop by themselves in real life and read a book or just sit. It’s not expected that anyone will just walk up and sit at their table and talk to them. “But why did you go to a coffee shop if you didn’t want to talk to people?”At another time, you go to a coffee shop with a friend to chat and catch up over a hot drink. You shouldn’t have to choose that you ALWAYS want to go for coffee only with friends, or that you always want to go for coffee always alone. If it wasn’t for Real ID, I wouldn’t be able to run five-mans and raids with friends from other servers and factions. I love Real ID. But there are times when I also hate it.
Because solitude doesn’t necessarily have to be anti-social. There should be room for stillness in every day life. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be alone sometimes. I really struggle with this because I get messaged a lot in Real ID. And the people I have in Real ID are my friends, so it’s not that I don’t want them there. But sometimes I just don’t feel like talking – and this even applies in real life. Voss knows more than anything, because he is more extroverted than I am. Sometimes I’ll be reading something quietly and he’ll be talking to me and after a few minutes of “Mmhm,” or me not responding he’ll say wryly, “You’re ‘peopled’ out, aren’t you?” He’s usually right. Being social takes energy from me. It’s possible to overdose on it. At those times, I really wish that Real ID had an invisible feature. It’s possible to manage your status with “Busy,” and “Away,” but that requires that people pay attention to your status and also respect it. It can be hard to tell a friend, “I just don’t feel like talking now,” without hurting their feelings or making it seem as if it’s something to do with them.
Now that I’m adding Battle Tags in Diablo III, it’s my understanding that the tags will carry over to the Real ID system in WoW, and I’ll be honest, I’m wary. I’m not quite sure why I need to be able to connect to Battle.net to be able to just play Diablo by myself (as sometimes, I am going to want to do just that). Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to be able to play with a wider range of people than I had available to me on Real ID. I’ve met so many great folks via blogging and Twitter that I’d love to game with. But if I have you on either of those systems, don’t be surprised if someday I’m set to busy and I don’t respond to your messages, or I don’t tweet back at you right away, or immediately answer your e-mails. Sometimes I may deliberately let my phone go to voice mail, close my Twitter client, and sit quietly by myself. Since the days when I played Super Mario Brothers and Bubble Bobble, gaming has been an escape for me. I could sit for hours and play – and sometimes I’d play for hours with my Mom or a friend, too! I love shared gaming experiences, and I love solitary ones. With our current expectations of connectivity, it can seem radical or selfish to say “I’m not available at the moment,” but trust me – sometimes everyone needs a little space to get lost in the world, virtual or otherwise. Diablo III seems like it’ll be a blast to play with other people, and also solo. I promise to respect your “Busy” tag if you’ll respect mine, since it doesn’t seem like invisibility is on the horizon anytime soon.