The Godmother mused on anonymity in the game space, and Matty riffed on it some more vis-à-vis our virtual personas. You should go read them. Go ahead. I’ll be here. I’m just a digital amalgam of personality traits and pixels.
… or am I?
An underlying theme of this sort of discussion is that games like WoW affords one anonymity, and they feel emboldened to therefore do many terrible things to people around them. In short, griefers.
This is well summarized in Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, captured so well on Penny Arcade.
I want to focus on that so-called "normal person" for a moment.
What is it about The Internets and a venue that creates this "fuckwad" shell around that person?
If you answered "nothing", you win the prize.
One is never truly anonymous on the internets. One is merely hoping not to be discovered.
In other words, that "normal" person is in fact a total fuckwad, and he just found the means to express himself in a manner that he felt he could get away with.
None of us is truly anonymous. We can change our names, address, even our appearance, but we are still who we are. If we act up on the internets, well, that’s us. Pure and simple.
You are everything you do, and that includes the time you were a total douchebag to the loser in the starting zone on the Azuremyst realm.
You may be the greatest raider of all time. You may lead your guild in an exemplary manner and your guildies may gather once a month to sing songs of praise about you. You may write blog posts that make Glenn Greenwald weep with envy.
But that time you were a dick to a baby space goat … that’s with you for life.
Nobody else may know, but you will.
And it’s not your virtual presentation that gets sullied with this. No, it’s the real, elemental, essential you that has to carry this around.
The same applies to those griefers out there.
They go day to day being "normal" people, but at night when they think nobody knows them, they’re being total assholes. And that, too, is "normal" for them.
This talk of the duality of the online and offline personality sometimes gets carried away. At the end of the day, the online personality is actually the offline person, wearing a pixel suit. I’m not a max-level dwarven hunter. I’m a middle-aged out of work software tester that also plays several other characters, some of them female, on the same game system. None of them is me, and yet all of them are within me, come from me, and are expressions of the essential me.
This isn’t a matter of people "becoming" dickwads. This is a matter of people letting their inner dickwad – the part of them that they were too timid or sensible to let real-life people see – out to play, to be a sadistic, brutish bully. To be a rat bastard. To be an illiterate schmuck.
We don’t act this way in real life because we will be held accountable. Ideas of an improved accountability system should be explored and implemented if we want to see this game improved as a social entity.
[KNOCK AT DOOR]
/Bob opens door.
Man at door: "Are you PunchyBooBoo?"
Bob: "Um …"
MaD: "PunchyBooBoo the warrior?"
BoB: "Um, well, …"
MaD: "PuchyBooBoo the Orc warrior on Medivh realm?"
BoB: "Yes, that’s m –"
/Man at Door punches Bob in the face
MaD: "THAT’S FOR MAKING MY LITTLE SISTER CRY, YOU SADISTIC BASTARD."
[A FEW HOURS LATER]
[KNOCK AT DOOR]
/Bob opens door
Another Man at door: Are you PunchyBooBoo the Orc Warrior?
Bob: MOM, IT’S FOR YOU!
Wouldn’t that be grand.
Any time you think you can get away with something awful is a test of your character. Maybe it’s a twenty dollar bill that dropped from a man’s coat as he rushed past you … you can keep it, he’ll never know. You found an exploit in the game that lets you use engineer’s grenades as construction devices. Somebody accidentally lists a 10,000 gp staff for 10 gp. You find a lone flagged low-level Hordie in your territory.
This is your time to shine; do the right thing, and all you’ll probably get from it is a sense of accomplishment. But karmic debt has been repaid, if you believe in such things.
Everything we do in the "real" world and all the "virtual" worlds are just expressions of our true selves. There is no true anonymity. Just opportunities to temporarily avoid the effects of your actions. Eventually, you must pay the toll.
Exact change, please.