It's been three months since the breakup and I still can't delete my ex's Mii. I still have Achievements and Trophies to win back and a stack of used games to re-beat.
This is what a console identity crisis looks like. It's not the same as having to return a sweater or divide up a DVD collection. It's not as easy to overcome as creating a new Second Life account or changing servers in World of Warcraft where all you need is an internet connection. A console is its own ecosystem. It keeps track of everything you've played, encourages you to show off the games you've played and it has an online network of people built into it. Who you are on PSN and LIVE sticks with you in a way that a PC-based identity doesn't. So when the console goes away – part of you does, too.
My ex and I shared an identity across the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3 and the Wii. We shared an Xbox LIVE account so we'd only have to pay for one Gold membership and have a more impressive Gamerscore. I decorated our house in PlayStation Home and contributed to the Trophy count on PlaySation Network. We also designed Miis for each other on the Wii as a bonding exercise. We invested in those virtual representations of our gamer identity the same way we invested in our relationship. You could view those LIVE or PSN accounts to see the games we played. While it probably looked weird for Killzone 2 to appear right next to Valkyria Chronicles, it was a representation of how we gamed together.
Now the relationship is gone. In the "dividing of the stuff" breakup ritual, he came away with the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 while I took home the Wii (do not ask who got the short end of the stick).The pieces of us embedded in those consoles still remain, but I've got to recover what I can with the identity-building tools that consoles give me.
You can't go Home again… or can you?
Of all the console identities I've lost, the gamer I was on PS3 will probably be the easiest to rebuild. That's due mostly to Home – a virtual reality that allows me the most flexibility to express myself beyond the list of games I've played and Trophies I've won.
The first form of expression is the avatar – something you only see on the PS3 when you're in Home. You can change your avatar's appearance and gender on the fly, so depending on which one of us "drove" while playing Home, our avatar would be a smartly dressed guy or a Goth-ish girl. As with most avatars in online environments, you can customize your avatar's appearance to look as much like (or totally unlike) you as you choose. The second form of expression is where you take your avatar in the virtual world, how you choose to talk to people with the chat option or by choosing to dance like a moron in a corner.
The real identity building, though, takes place in your virtual living space. Signing up for Home from your PS3 automatically gives you a living space in Home to decorate. You can display pictures from your hard drive or show off stuff you win or buy in Home as decorations in your virtual apartment. My ex and I had the lake house in Home. If I wanted, I could have a space identical to the one we shared, since you can't edit buildings. But it really wouldn't be what we had because your Home account is bound to your PSN ID. Even if I re-beat every single game and win back all the Trophies we had, the pictures on my hard drive would be mine and I could use the decorations to create a new self in Home that's totally unlike who I was.
"This is something that's been a part of Home since day one," says Jack Buser, director of PlayStation Home at Sony. "In the real world when you go out in public, you express yourself by how you act, the things you talk about and how you dress. But people don't really know who you are — really, really — until they go back to your pad."
Buser's advice to me for me was to keep checking back into Home for new content and rewards. Naturally, he'd say that because he wants to sell his product, but Buser made a bigger point about looking forward to the future instead of living in the past.
"What you see in Home… those things are not static," he says. "[Home]'s constantly evolving, constantly changing. Your experience in Home today is going to be quite different from your experience in Home a month from now — six months from now — a year from now."
And by then I may have finally re-beat all the PS3 games on my list.
Living An Xbox LIVE
Who I was on Xbox LIVE will be much harder to recreate. LIVE is more static than PSN because there isn't a virtual world layered into it for me to build a self in. All I get is my avatar, my Achievement list, my games library, themes and friends list as ways in which I can be me. So if I'm going to pad out my Gamerscore with games like Avatar The Last Airbender: The Burning Earth, everyone on my friends list will know how lame I am. I can't hide it behind a well-dressed avatar with a sweet virtual pad or blame it on my boyfriend.
Worse, now that Xbox LIVE has rolled out its new features like "Gold member for xx years," I'm really suffering a loss of self. My Achievement list and games library look pathetically small for someone who works at Kotaku. All of my friends have to re-friend my new account and make the difficult decision about whether or not to un-friend my old shared account. Worst of all, I have to play through a ton of games all over again and re-buy any downloadable games because that info is bound to the old LIVE account and how else am I going to establish myself as an authority on Japanese role-playing games if I don't have record of beating all the big ones like Eternal Sonata, Tales of Vesperia and Lost Odyssey?
Heather Snavely, director of Global Xbox consumer communications, may wind up in the same boat as me someday. She doesn't share an Xbox LIVE ID with her husband, but she does allow her two children to play online with her account. "I want their gamer points," she laughs.
"A lot of families and couples do have one account, so they're sharing that experience," Snavely says. "But it never crossed my mind to share with my husband. I'm an only child, so I'm like ‘Well, this is mine.' I have to be able to change [my avatar's] clothes. I'm very protective."
So what happens when her children grow up and want their own accounts?
"I don't know," she says. "That's a tricky one. It's like a rite of passage [to have your own account]."
Snavely acknowledged that there is a possibility Microsoft would create family plans for Xbox Live in the future, similar to cell phone plans. This would make it easier to transfer Achievements or data to a new account when a child goes off to college and gets their own Xbox 360 or something. But as of now, Microsoft has nothing like that in the works. Instead, they're focusing on features that let you express yourself even more thoroughly.
For example, aside from the Gold member veteran status that you can now see, Xbox Live is instituting a user rating system for downloadable games. Snavely says this expression of opinion creates a personal history unlike anything you've been able to do with LIVE before – and it will make you less inclined to share your account with others, even if you do want extra Achievements, because you want to own your opinion about the games you play.
Her advice to me and gamers in my situation is, "In the future, always have your own [account]. Think of yourself and the Achievements you want to build because once it's gone, it's gone. Customize and create the person you want to be online and own it."
Finding Mii Again
On the Wii, I haven't deleted my ex's Mii. But I did get rid of the fugly eyebrows he put on my Mii and changed the color of my shirt. These acts of expression are tiny in comparison to what I could do in Home and on LIVE, but it's still a way to own my identity on that console.
What I've learned from my console identity crisis is this: Identity – both in real life and online – is about making choices. The choices we make for ourselves on console are more permanent than we realize. Maybe we take things like Gamertag recovery and guest accounts for granted. Maybe we don't think about identity when we let our lovers, friends or family members borrow our profiles for just one game. But choosing to share defines us, too.
I don't regret being who I was when I shared console identities with my ex, even if I'm not thrilled about beating Tales of Vesperia for the fourth time. I look forward to re-beating all the old games so I can start playing new ones and so I can make new choices that redefine me as a gamer. The Trophies and Achievements I rack up in the meantime will tell you who I was. The new personal expression features that evolve on PSN and LIVE will determine what kind of gamer I become.