By creating a barrier between players online, Nintendo’s Friend Codes accidentally make gaming online have more emotional weight.
For the uninitiated, Nintendo has a weird policy ruling how people play games online with their Wii or DS. If you want to play online with a specific person, you must exchange a 12-digit code with them, in real life. This can be cumbersome to obtain with people you don’t readily communicate with like, say, random gamers online. It is a contrast both to how their competitors handle online gaming and Nintendo’s supposedly low barrier for casual gamers. But as John Constantine posits in Issue 233 of The Escapist, friend codes can actually be a good thing:
Chances are you’re comfortable playing games online with both friends and complete strangers. But Nintendo’s fear-driven business policy is a recognition that not everyone plays videogames the same way as enthusiasts and industry members do. For many of the less hardcore players out there, gaming online isn’t a foreign concept, but it can nonetheless feel cold and forbidding. Friend Codes end up circumventing some of the emotional detachment of online gaming just by forcing players to go out of their way to introduce themselves prior to play.
I was surprised the first time that I had to enter a Friend Code just to play Mario Kart with some out of state friends. It involved frantic text messages and annoying delays as one guy couldn’t seem to figure out how the process worked, possibly while stoned. But Constantine is right, I then was completely engaged when the game started because I knew exactly who I was playing against instead of Bob Loblaw from East Bumf*ck. Is that a happy accident, or did Nintendo know what they were doing with Friend Codes? Read the rest of In Defense of The Friend Code and let us know your thoughts on the sticky 12 digit codes.