Monday, February 11, 2008
Playing Culdcept Saga over the last few days, I've run into an interesting phenomenon that has only happened to me very rarely in all the years since I first owned a PC.
As anyone who spends even a small amount of time on internet websites or messageboards knows, the vast majority of people who post use aliases or 'handles' when posting. Whatever the reason, I've found that the percentage of folks who submit comments under their real names is quite small, almost to the point of being nonexistent.
As a result, I've found (as I'm sure everyone has) that I start to know regulars on a given site by these made-up names. No loving mother ever names their child Wicky99, 1l0v3A22, or MasterChiefsNutSack, yet these entities reveal elements of the people behind them over time when replying to threads or sounding off on the topics of the day.
So what's the phenomenon?
When meeting some of these folk online to play some game, I find that I have absolutely no idea what to call someone I "know" when speaking aloud through Live's voice chat function.
It seems bizarre to have written messages back and forth with people, sometimes for years, only to realize that I don't know what their real name is. I feel somewhat hesitant to call someone by their handle in the same way that any self-respecting person doesn't pronounce the letters "ell-oh-ell" as a word to ever be used in real conversation, and most of the games I've played over the last few days usually begin with something along the lines of:
"Hey, uh... nice to meet you, sort of. Uhm, like, what's your name or what should I call you?"
This line is usually met with a few moments of awkward silence on both sides-- I wait to hear the response while the person I'm speaking to quickly tries to decide if I'm some sort of internet predator who can unravel the threads of their carefully-guarded identities with disastrous slasher-film consequences.
That's right, Billy Johansen... my shiny butcher knife and I traveled twelve states, found your home address, broke into your house and hid inside your broom closet because you told me your REAL NAME during a multiplayer match... and now your GamerScore is MINE. MwahahahAHAHAHAAAAAAAA!!!
In all seriousness though, the weird intersection of online and offline lives is still something of an uncharted social territory to me, and for others too, I'd guess... For every person who came right out and said "My name's Jason", there was another who insisted that I keep on using their Nom de Game.
Perhaps those who post and comment as their "real selves" feel less guarded than those who use these electronic aliases as a way to get out things they aren't really comfortable expressing in the company of others?
I feel like there's a thesis paper in here somewhere just waiting to get out.