Friday, February 22, 2008

Pros and cons of Teamspeak

I'll never forget my first encounter with Teamspeak. It was about level 60 when I took the jump over to my second guild ever in the game, a huge, wild growing social guild with a core of a bunch of real-life friends in Scotland. As a member you were supposed to download and starting using Teamspeak, so I obeyed, being a nice girl, and started the procedure once I had gotten myself a headset.

On the website our GM had put educating screenshots that step by step described how to download the software and what settings to make. Eventually I thought I was done and, a bit scared, tried to connect. Total silence. Then a long session followed when my guild friends with the patience of angels helped be come further. It turned out that not only TS had to be set up, but also a lot of settings for the sound card and lines in and out for the headset. I tabbed in and out between the guild chat and the desktop, where teamspeak and sound settings were open. For a while the struggle seemed hopeless and I was about to give up. But scots are stubborn. Of course they were curious about that strange Swedish girl that suddenly had come to the guild out of nowhere. And suddenly I was in! I heard them and they heard me. I didn't have a clue about what they said, their accent was too heavy. But there was no doubt that we all were happy to eventually connect. We united in a big cheer.

One reason that TS was so central in this guild was the fact that one of the members was dyslectic. Thanks to that most things were said in TS he could have a clue of what was going on and be a team member, if we hadn't used it it would have been quite impossible to him. That was evidence of an almost touching caring attitude I thought, while it at the same time made it more difficult to me. It wasn't only that the accent was odd, many of them also had so bad microphones that I couldn't hear much except for scratches. If it had been up to me to decide I would have preferred to communicate in the guild chat.

In my present Swedish guild we also use TS. But without any Scottish accent, now it's at most a bit of Smaalandish, Stockholmish or the whining accept from Eskilstuna that we have to translate. It's a lot easier. And we really benefit from TS, although no one as far as I know is dyslectic. The most obvious benefit is of course when we're doing instances or radiing.

You don't realize how much it helps until you pug and suddenly remember what it's like to write a lot of stuff when you want to coordinate the party before complicated pulls or boss fights. Or when the TS server suddenly goes down and we're standing there, muted, separated from each other.

We're often using TS when there's no special need for it as well. It's simply nicer to make lonely tasks such as daily quests and farming if you can combine it with talking some crap with people you like.

Most of all I think Teamspeak is for the good. The written word is after all pretty blunt. Even if you use emotes it's easy to misunderstand each other. It's so much quicker to say what you want this way (and then I'm a quick at typing with a correct finger setting, thanks to my old grumpy typing teacher at high school - I had never imagined that your lessons were them I had most use of in real life).

Another problem with written guild communication is that it's so hard to write while you're fighting. Something will always suffer from it, either I'll become a louse speaking partner or I'll die unnecessary, taking down half as many mobs as I've really got capacity for.

Bad things about Teamspeak then? Yes, there are disadvantages. For myself I can't quite handle pus-to-talk. That means that I have to remember to manually shut down the mic in order not to torture my guildies with coughs, munching of hard bread or the shouting of the kids in the background. I don't always remember to do it and I just don't want to think about how much noise I've involuntarily tormented my guildies with.

Another bad thing is that nothing in TS stays, it just passes away. Every once in a while you have to leave the PC for some urgent RL action like helping children to sneeze, taking some coffee or taking out the wash. When you're back you have no idea what has been said. In the guild chat you can easily update yourself by scrolling back.

Teamspeak can also make you lose a bit of the feeling for the game. Instead of letting music and game sounds pull you into the landscape, enhancing the sense of being here and now, you can be sucked into discussions that will give you a completely different mood than you really want. The demons luring in the darkness won't be very frightening if they're accompanied by hysterical laughter.

A maybe bigger problem is that TS risks cut off the ones that don't use it. Today I think most players can install the program and at least have headphones so they can listen, but not everyone has - or dare to use - microphones. It's natural that you'll get to know the people you actually talk to much better than the ones whose voices you've never heard.

You can't overlook tha fact that when discussions mostly are performed orally, it's likely that the guild chat more or less will die. At least myself I've got quite limited capacity of doing two things at the same time - I can barely write while talking. It's quite likely that it will be one thing or the other, and the guild chat will suffer. Players that for some reason aren't on the teamspeak will probably become a bit lonely, not truly belonging to the community.

So what should you do then? Well, both I think. I'm too used to Teamspeak to consider playing without it. It really helps up communications. When you hear a living voice it will become so much more evident that you're dealing with a real person and not with a game NPC.
That doesn't mean I want to sit there every single second I play. Sometimes it's really nice just to stroll around in a universe of your own, listening to the game sounds or to some favourite music. To shut out the world and just sink into the game, like into meditation.

But I also want a guild chat that every now and then lightens up the screen with a little green comment, in between the babbling in general and trade. Even though it's just a little "hi" when logging in and "good night" when logging out.

Teamspeak is for god and for bad, but mostly for good I think, as long as you care a bit about your guild chat.

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