Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Talking about games in past tense

I just noticed I have a curious problem of grammar when talking about games I used to play: What tense should I use when talking about them? I find myself writing things like "Star Wars Galaxies had resources with stats", and then correcting myself and thinking that SWG probably still *has* resources with stats, and I shouldn't use the past tense. But then, I haven't played SWG after it was completely redone in the so-called NGE, so how am I supposed to know? Should I write all those phrases as "When I played it, SWG had resources with stats, and I'm not sure how it is now"? That'll get cumbersome quickly.

It gets more complicated if you want to talk about a game which changed, where different statements are true only for specific times. Did Ultima Online have free-for-all PvP? It did, but only pre-Trammel. Does Star Wars Galaxies have 9 character classes? Yes, but only since the NGE. And sometimes the statement has many answers depending on what time you take as reference point. "Everquest had 400,000 subscribers" is strictly true only for two dates in time, the day where it went up to 400,000 and the day it passed 400,000 in its decline. We should say "as far as we know Everquest had slightly over 400,000 subscribers from 2002 to 2004", but again that becomes unwieldy.

It gets downright dangerous with phrases like "World of Warcraft was a good game", because then people still playing the game feel insulted. World of Warcraft *is* a good game. The past tense is solely indicating that the speaker doesn't play the game any more, which is usually more likely due to personal burn-out than to the game really having changed in quality that much. On the other hand today I said "Auto Assault isn't that bad a game", and then found out that on August 31 I would have to change that phrase into the past tense, because Auto Assault will cease to exist.

So if you ever catch me using the wrong tense, you know where it is coming from. I have a certain tendency to use the past tense for games that I used to play, but don't play any more. You shouldn't read too much into it, I surely don't want to suggest that the game is dead as soon as I leave. Just imagine an unspoken "When I played it" in front of those phrases.

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