Wedded to this is a feeling of attachment to a character that single-player games rarely produce. If you don't like playing as Gordon Freeman in the Half-Life series, there's really not much you can do about it. In contrast, the more successful MMOGs have tended to allow players a great deal of character-customization, resulting in avatars that specifically suit all manner of visual tastes and play-styles. This process inevitably brings players closer to their creations. It even allows them to create an approximation of who they wish they were in real life. No surprise then, that MMOG players often get pretty attached to their in-game personas.

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For example, it's not unheard of for World of Warcraft players to have dedicated the equivalent of hundreds of full days to the game. As these virtual timecards continue to fill up, it leaves players in a risky situation regarding their character data. If the impact of losing several hours of gaming is frustrating, what consequence would the possible loss of months have on a person's mental health - especially when the character lost is one to which the player has a strong emotional attachment?

We've already seen at least one attempted lawsuit brought against a developer for, among other things, the deletion of an MMOG character. Although this incident involved the character being deleted after an extended player hiatus (and is therefore unlikely to have the same impact as a sudden deletion), it highlights how conflict can occur when players believe they have ownership over data that is being held on external servers. In fact, despite feeling closer to their characters and putting in vastly more hours than in any single-player game, MMOG players ultimately own absolutely nothing. Indeed, developers have protected themselves thus far by making it clear that any money paid to them is purely for access to a service and does not extend to the ownership of items or characters. Blizzard, for example, has a specific policy document relating to the retrieval of lost characters and items. The document takes pains to explain precisely what can and can't be restored, and the circumstances under which it may be possible to do so - they store all the data, and they call all the shots.

From its basic beginnings, save functionality has expanded to the point where it now encompasses thousands upon thousands of hours invested in on-screen avatars. As games increase in sophistication and the emotional bonds between players and characters grow ever stronger, so too does the possibility of catastrophic loss. What many have experienced as annoyance and frustration could soon have the potential to cause serious mental health issues. If affected players begin to seek recompense for this suffering, it may even spell trouble for developers. It's a far cry from the days when I just wanted to see Dizzy safely through the dangers of Magicland.

Peter Parrish is a freelance wr@#!?1% file corrupted, abort/retry/fail?

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