Heartbleed and gaming have devolved our lives into a series of security questions

Opinion

I’m not sure what behavior on my Battle.net account was suspicious, but it has been locked down, and I can’t access my games until the issue is resolved. This is why I found myself holding an ID up to my computer's webcam in an attempt to prove that yes, I am Ben Kuchera. The one with the crappy Hearthstone deck that he wants back.

I could probably have fixed the issue if I still had access to my old e-mail account at Ars Technica, under which I set up my Battle.net account, but that ship has sailed. I’m at the mercy of customer service to give me back access to my collection of Blizzard games.

Much of this is my fault; it’s incredibly shortsighted to attach any long-term account to an e-mail address that’s been provided by an employer. Your career can and will change, but I haven’t learned my lesson. I still sometimes have to dig into the e-mail account of my previous employer to reclaim passwords and authorizations for games and services I’ve signed up for in the past few years.

If I sat down and made a list of all the accounts I have for games or services that provide games, I'd run out of paper. It's likely that half of them use outdated personal information, and I won't know until I have a reason to return to the game or platform. It's like looking into the future and seeing a string of unpleasant moments trying to work out how to log in, but not knowing when or where it's going to happen.

A common issue, made worse for gamers

The Heartbleed bug may have given us all a reason to tighten up our password practices and to clean up our virtual lives, but the act of making sure you can access the games you’ve purchased has become a juggling act of passwords, security questions and authorizations. There are tools you can use to make this easier, but practicing good online security is an ongoing struggle, and unless you’ve had a system in place for years you can find yourself haunted by the poor practices of your past. I'm starting the process today, inspired by my Blizzard issue and the greater issues raised by Heartbleed itself.

Raise your hand if you had trouble logging into a long-dormant Origins account because you purchased Titanfall on the PC. I’m with you.

These are problems that will only be worse for our children. I had to walk my son through what makes a good password, the dangers of reusing passwords and how to keep them safe when I helped him set up a Minecraft account. These are lessons that are mandatory in our lives these days, and not just for gaming, but I have a feeling it will be a while before basic online security practices make it into schools.

The amount of money that is kept behind these passwords and security questions can border on the ridiculous. It’s not rare for people to have hundreds of games on their Steam accounts, and my digital history with Sony stretches back to the beginning of the PlayStation Network.

It will be a while before basic online security practices make it into schools

It’s fun to go back through your history to find out exactly what day you downloaded a demo for your PSP six years ago. Sony does a wonderful job of keeping track of your digital purchases across many different hardware platforms and giving you access to those games on any system in which you’re logged in, but it’s all contingent on you having access to that account.

Online banking and perhaps an Amazon or Netflix account are becoming the rule rather than the exception, but gamers have dozens of logins across countless services and games to remember and track. I recently had to set up an account with Bethesda to play The Elder Scrolls Online. I struggled to remember the details for my Origin login, and I ultimately made a new account to play Titanfall when none of my usual logins or e-mail addresses seemed to work.

There is new content coming for Card Hunter, and I’m already nervous about figuring out which e-mail address and login information I used for that game. I don’t even want to think about the RockStar Social Club, and I doubt I’d be able to successfully log back into MechWarrior Online on my first attempt. I believe I know how to get into my League of Legends account, so I'm not worried about that one. The list goes on, and I add to it most weeks.

This isn't terrible, in the scheme of things

This is comforting in a way, and it shows that media consolidation hasn't swallowed the world of gaming. The more accounts we have and the more ways we have to buy and play games the healthier the industry may be in general. If we ever have to put in a single password to play all of our games, something terrible must have happened.

We have very little control over the games we purchase

But on the other hand, think of how convenient that would be. This comedy of errors was staged due to my own lack of dilligence, and I'm fixing the issues now with the help of customer service, but it's yet another piece of evidence that shows how little control we have over the games we purchase.

We used to just take our copy of each game off the shelf to play it, now we have to make sure we still have the files needed, and then pray we remember our childhood nicknames, or the street on which your favorite pet grew up reading your favorite author. I'm waiting for the moment that a services asks which child is my favorite. Reclaiming accounts can often feel like a tour of your own life.

At the end of the day, I just want to play my games, without jumping through hoops. So I'm making a list of services and titles I still care about, updating personal information, changing passwords, and trying to keep myself safe. It's not a bad way to spend a Friday, but I also know it's merely postponing the inevitable; the next big security threat will make us do it all again.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Polygon as an organization.

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