You can't see me! Ha!
The Age of the Internet has brought many advances in the way that we play games. It usually breaks down into three categories, and I like to chunk things neatly for the sake of paragraphs. The Internet has brought we the gamers The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. The Good is that it has opened up a whole world where we can interact with other game enthusiasts and engage in our favorite games together from miles away. Bungie Games has banked on this for years now. The Bad, I would say, is lag. Lag kills, and as wired as South Korea is, they haven't solved this problem for me yet, as too many times I am looking for my corpse in some Azerothan forest. The Ugly, however, would be the freedom that so many feel that anonymity permits them to ruin the experience of online gaming for the rest of us.
Online anonymity is a clever trickster. Personally, I am a huge fan of the freedom and safety of anonymity. I wrote for a very long time under a pseudo-anonymous name that I still use now, especially when writing in journals. I do, however, have a certain level of privilege that allows me to feel reasonably comfortable using my own name when publishing certain work in certain places. My name probably isn't so anonymous anymore, since I use the same one in gaming avatars, and with only a little work you could easily find my Play Station Network and XBox Live IDs.
But many people rely on that anonymity for many reasons. Apparently, we as gamers are still catching a lot of flack for engaging in our favorite hobby. Even though the ESA [pdf.] says that the average gamer is 34 years old (26% are 50 and older), that 67% of house-holds in the US own a gaming console or computer for running "entertainment systems", and that 64% of parents believe that games are a positive part of their children's lives, gamers are still viewed by many as deviants. Being a Halo player can even be used as a political smear. We are unproductive. We are prone to violence. We lack ambition. Something … I forget, I think we also lack concentration, but that might be my fifth Code Red Mountain Dew today, also. *Shrugs* Why shouldn't we be able to enjoy our favorite way to unwind without worrying about how our co-workers would feel about us running around Azeroth twenty hours a week as opposed to plunging ourselves in a good book or taking a cooking class?
For some people living on the axis of certain oppressions, anonymity is certainly your friend. Despite what Christina H and David Wong at Cracked want you to think, the Internet is not full of hysterical women making up rape threat stories like some fantasy RPG gone bad. We don't need to [Extreme Trigger Warning]. Places like XBox live and MMORPG chats chans can turn hostile instantly should your anonymity be breached. Women I know will often refrain from using Ventrillo, or other voice-chat tools to avoid having to be heard in co-op game play. Often, people refrain from discussing their sexual orientation with anyone other than close friends. Why should they when those details are cast about by others as if they are to be used as insults?
Without anonymity, some of us wouldn't feel safe. Some of us, perhaps, wouldn't be safe.
Some people, however, worry that online anonymity encourages the psychological concept of deindividuation. Rather, the idea that when we don't stand out as individuals we are not responsible for our actions when we engage in subversive behavior. As this article from GamePro Magazine explains it, the boys from Lord of the Flies succumbed to the idea that behind their painted masks they were free from being themselves, and essentially, free to be hunters. Jamie puts it a little better than I do. I've been meaning to re-read Lord of the Flies myself. But Dragon Age 2 was just released. I'm busy.
In fact, Blizzard tried last year to institute a policy of LiveID-ing their members in their online forums to avoid "trolls" from casually causing a raucous. Their thought process was that if people had to be responsible for their words in forums then perhaps they wouldn't engage in such inappropriate behavior, right? To prove their point, an Activision-Blizzard manager posted his real name to the forum, but by the end of two days the whole idea had to be rescinded, because angry members had found and posted online his personal information.
I don't have an easy answer about online anonymity, because I don't think there is one. My Facebook is locked down like hatch on a submarine. Honestly? I don't think true anonymity exists. Eventually you are going to be found out, either because there is no respect for privacy, or because inevitably you'll slip and be discovered. I think that it is necessary to allow people to use handles of their choosing, because too much is at stake when it comes to people's safety. We are talking about the lives of marginalized bodies, and this is before you add the force that plunges people to /ragequit and send you threatening messages to your Play Station Network or hate mail. Until we can, as Lesley at Two Whole Cakes puts it, learn to kill each other and not be assholes about it, anonymity is that buffer that keeps gamers safe(r).