Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, July 03, 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.
You've been listening to Alanis Morissette, haven't you )
Say something like "The 2005 SWG had ..." ... you're referring to a version in the past. It may or may not still exist, but it existed *then*.
I usually also use the same tense as you depending on if I've stopped playing it or not, and I doubt we are alone. ;)
The problem with time travel is, in fact, the grammar.
In the english language there's nothing wrong with referring to aspects of a game you used to play in the past tense. Especially when speaking to an audience that is familiar with the subject matter (such as yours). When you say 'star wars galaxies had resources with stats', everybody here knows what you mean.

Also, since all MMOs are prefaced with 'game experience may change' (or whatever that blurb is) speaking the past tense is appropriate, as any given statement only definatively applies to the moment in time that you observed it, which is in the past.

This is true even for opinions - 'wow was a good game'. You're not currently playing it, so you only know that wow was a good game when you played it - in the past. You have no way of knowing if it is still a good game, so again, past tense is perfectly acceptable.
The language, grammar, tense, and time police are after you... LOL...

Hang in there, Tobold. Most of us get your drift, and when we don't we can ask for clarity!
Turbine just officially lost all of their positive buzz from LOTRO.

This, I think, officially ends the honeymoon phase.
The problem with time travel is, in fact, the grammar.

Right, only Douglas Adams being a bit more verbose originally said it like this in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of becoming your own father or mother. There is no problem in becoming your own father or mother that a broad-minded and well-adjusted family can't cope with. There is no problem with changing the course of history—the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw. All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end.

The major problem is simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner's Time Traveler's Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you, for instance, how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be descibed differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is futher complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own mother or father.

When I post I don't worry about tense that much when I'm referring to a game I no longer play.

I go out of town and friends say "How WAS Iceland?" and I answer "It WAS fun!" Of course, it's less fun since I'm no longer there, but I don't start getting philosophical about it. I leave that to you :P
<restaurant at the end of the universe quotage>

Yeah, I didn't have the book handy :)
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