The Games We Play: Pwn Anonymous, with Love

Brandann Hill-Mann
View profile »

World of Warcraft Auntiepally-1

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).

Still Reading? Sign up for our Weekly Reader!

6 Comments Have Been Posted

Totally know what you mean.

Totally know what you mean. As a long time gamer, I have lived the masquerade - frequently changing my masks. I do find that sometimes there are close-knit, online communities, sort of that close-group of friends deal, where people (moi) do exchange some private information with. Social guilds tend to be a good environment to test the waters of trust with other players, too. Outside of all of these, I haven't given out my personal information, although I do think we're entering an age of more trust between people, in general. Here's my philosophy: the less afraid you are, or should be of hiding information, the more at ease you can be online. Well... that said...
Sexuality is a frighteningly intimate detail to reveal, especially if you're already faced with prejudice for being who you are in real life - where it takes enough courage as it is, to come out with. I can't think of other more intimate details, except perhaps your home address (serious), and any financial information (pretty serious) which comes close to being as frightening to reveal (assuming you had any reason to) online. Still, I bet they're out there (other frightening details, that is) - each person has their own terms to deal with.
Its still a pity that being a 'gamer' gives a negative image (thanks for!). but to the level that it can be looked upon as a negative quality makes me want to jump up and start exposing their stigma!
But finally, I leave you with this, a picture I thought expressed online personas and their relationship with being anonymous:

I for one was very opposed to

I for one was very opposed to the use of my real name on the WoW forums, mostly due to wanting to avoid the continued harassment and verbal (written?) abuse of a gamer I used to play WoW with. It was very traumatic, very long-term, and very real. After I broke off our "friendship," he even started harassing my former partner (also a WoW player) and other players from my guild about me. To me, anonymity is very much was an issue of well-being and when I create new accounts online, I am wary about using my real name, lest this jerk find me again and the cycle continue.

I find it interesting that even though I am anonymous as my WoW characters, I still manage to occasionally get sexually harassed while playing female characters. I am mainly harassed by male characters despite the despite the observation that a very large number of men play as female characters. I have found that harassment has gone down the higher in dork cred my character gets (level, guild, achievement points, gear) and that it has differed since I have switched the type of character I play (I used to play a helpful healer, but now play a sneaky rogue). I still receive harassment occasionally, but never while on my main (my primary, more notable character). It makes me wonder how the anonymity serves to deter these messages while on my main: is it that I have gained more respect due to my game achievements, that my respected guild name shields me, or if would-be harassers simply assume that I am most likely male due to my level of game achievement?

I know a few women who refuse to speak on Ventrillo and their gender has been called into question quite a few times because they won't provide "proof."

Great work with this post, and all of the others in the series!

I've had this conversation

I've had this conversation with several people about anonymity and safety online. To me, the Internet, including online gaming, is a version of the "real" world. You wouldn't paint your name, address and phone number on a wall in a city, so maybe it's not a good idea to do it online, either. Like you, my Facebook page was also on "lockdown" as well, before I deactivated it. That being said, I definitely hesitate before identifying myself as female, lest I get some kind of horrendously sexist and disgusting remark. In the physical world I'm often not taken seriously as a young woman, and being anonymous online gives me a chance to escape that and be considered solely on what I say rather than on how I look or dress. I think the problems online are indicative of the problems in the rest of the world--the various -isms, the nastiness and the harassment. The only difference is that no one can punch you online.

Good point...

<em>The only difference is that no one can punch you online.</em>

I wonder, though, how many people feel that words are just as eviscerating, sometimes more so, than physical violence. I think it depends on your oppression, history, and ability and/or willingness to withstand certain abuses.

I recently deleted all the

I recently deleted all the important info off of my Facebook. It was all set to maximum privacy already, and I never put anyone on my list that I don't actually, really, know; but now the info is just not there. I've always been pseudo-anonymous online, and hoping that if anyone ever has bad intentions, they couldn't be arsed to do the work to look up my details and just stick to trying to leave me comments.

In MMOs I'm usually assumed to be male, as far as I can tell. I'm not sure why that is. If I decide to socialise outside of the game environment, OOC (I RP heavily) and reveal some stuff about myself, even then some people don't believe that I'm female. On the one hand it's insulting (it speaks to the preconceived ideas people have about how a woman should talk and behave), but on the other hand it's convenient: in one place, after I said a word on guild-vent and some people actually finally believed I was female, suddenly their behaviour around me changed drastically. No more pulling mobs or tanking in combat, suddenly hardly ever taking a hit in a fight anymore, people constantly offering me stuff, couldn't walk off 3 meters on my own anymore without a chaperone, people everywhere trying to 'help' me with everything, talking differently in the chat. It was bloody annoying. I like being alone. I like hanging out with my guild and RPing, but I prefer doing as much of the actual gameplay on my own as I can, and I prefer exploring on my own as well. FFS, I can hardly go anywhere without an aide in meatspace (and that's hard going for a natural loner), so I'll damn well roam free in a game. And they all KNEW my preferences. They never had a problem with it before.

Oh man, I can SO relate to these headaches

Back when online play (and the internet in general) was foreign to me, I fantasized about the idea of meeting up with other similarly minded players who were more or less on my skill level instead of the local players I could beat about 50 times in my favorite game. The possibilities were endless, and I wanted to embrace the world with intense fervor.

Here comes along September 2001 (no, really) with my online experience with Starcraft. Culture shock didn't even begin to describe how intimidating the environment was. Before then, I considered myself pretty good at the game, but I got annihilated so badly in ways I couldn't even predict against seasoned veterans, it actually made me a far more aggressive gamer compared to my old conservative play style. Still, that was nothing compared to the rudeness of some players I experienced. Rude, arrogant jackasses describes too many players than I'd like to admit, even though they didn't exactly represent the majority. Some players even preferred that I died on 2v2/3v3 games, simply because my presence disgusted them (and no, I'm not exaggerating this one bit). It was actually worse when I played Starcraft again in 2007, suddenly struck with an itch when viewing videos of the sequel. One player even said I needed to quit playing online and practice offline with campaign mode...even though I played through Starcraft and expansion pack Brood War TWICE. Counterstrike was just as bad at times, though I have enough awesome memories of that game to overlook the BS.

And that was one of the better possibilities for wide-eyed idealist gamers like myself. I can't imagine how bad it was for people who didn't have people teaching them the ins and outs of how to navigate online PC gaming. It's a complex environment that's not easy to transition to, and having outside support can mean the difference of people quitting in frustration or experiencing the advantages PC games can offer over console gaming. Lucky for me, I had an older brother who's a PC enthusiast, and at least I hung out with gamers on a forum with gamers that either shared my obliviousness or sympathized with the difficulties of console gamers making the difficult leap. Not everyone has those advantages, and I fear that the sometimes-too-insulated PC gaming community intentionally wants to make things difficult to weed out the people they consider idiots. This dialogue continues to this day, if PC forums are anything to believe. This is a BIG reason I took the time to train a Starcraft novice that happened to drop in one game, asking basic questions, because I knew everyone else would make fun of him (and admittedly, I laughed at first too, because I thought the dude was kidding...until I realized he wasn't).

But before you think I'm anti-PC, and that only PC gamers can be jerks, so can console gamers. In some ways, it's actually WORSE on Xbox Live, because the popularity invites many different kinds of people, and proportionally, several more a-holes. During one vicious Modern Warfare 2 experience, I got attacked for simply complementing one player. Then I got paired with those two guys one game, who continued to harass me, because I played poorly or ran in front of them, mid-game. Ugh. Rest assured if I ran into those guys in real life, I wouldn't hesitate running them over with my Honda Accord, or incapacitating them with a 2x4

And this is one of the reasons why many traditional gamers loathe what online gaming has become, and why there's a sudden shift of support for single player games. Online gaming inspires anger and vitriol unprecedented in the medium's history, and marginalizes the one important rule of gaming: it's supposed to be fun and a break from reality's frustrations, not exacerbate them. What was once a cool, new experience has morphed into a bitchfest of pre-pubescent gamers who think they're cool because they can swear like a South Park character and 20-30 year old elitist douchebags who decry everyone else as crappy because no one else can match their 45:8 kill:death record. It's also the reason why I'm supporting my local arcade; which by 2011's standards is surprisingly robust, while avoiding the commercialized insipidness of a Dave & Buster's. I've met several awesome hardcore gamers who don't act like they have a stick in their butt all the time, and are competitive gamers without being asinine about it. It's the perfect union between old school and new school gaming.

Anonymity, while not being entirely the culprit, certainly doesn't help any of it. I tend to have a better time with friends online playing gamers than by myself, or, as the arcade example above, I prefer to play with a small group of people that''s willing to call out our BS instead of being ignored in a sea of ignorance. As for the female harassment, I haven't seen it much myself, as in these smaller groups, they tend to get respected. Sometimes, some members of a longtime forum I'm involved in likes to taunt them because of their gender, but keep in mind that this is a place where we all use tasteless humor and go after everybody based off nationality, ethnicity and religious/philosophical beliefs. At the end of the day, it's part of our routine, so it's not seen as any worse than throwing out racial slurs. Yeah, this sounds like a horrible place, but it's surprisingly much friendlier than many online gaming communities I've experienced, and when all else fails, we have each other's backs and aren't hesitant to give ample advice to us and other gamers. This is how it should be, but unfortunately, it's not always the case.

P.S. Funny that you mentioned Crack's David Wong, because he's the first person I thought of when reading this article. He's a good writer, but he's sometimes too pessimistic about the gaming industry and...well, everything.

Add new comment