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Hiding Behind the Monitor

Though this is an issue much more severe than any one game can reflect, many of you have asked for my thoughts on this story as a female gamer. For quite some time there has been an uproar over the plans Blizzard had to force WoW players to post as themselves (using their “real life” names) in the WoW forums. Just a few days ago Blizzard announced that they would no longer be implementing this plan. Here are my thoughts thoughts this:

While I have not played WoW for years, once you are inside of the World of Warcraft, it gets inside of you (no, not like that 😉 . It is fun, addicting, frustrating…and you can get lost in it. Part of its appeal is defined by the “R” in MMORPG. You have the ability, the privilege even, to take on the role of a character completely unlike yourself. Or, if you so choose, to take on the role of a character completely like yourself. Or only a little.

Internet Privacy Elves

But, the key is, you are NOT yourself. You’re someone else.

I was a high-level Rogue Gnome named Ludith, among other things. If I had decided it, I could have hidden myself completely behind my character. No one would have known who I was. No one needed to know I was even female in real life.

So the appeal of such life-like games is not just in the fun of the game mechanics, but in the allure of anonymous connections with strangers, of being whoever I want to be, without the cares, worries, and history that comes with “real life.” This environment is like a bright fluorescent light at night, drawing, among others, socially-awkward gamers and people with low self-esteem like so many moths, gnats, and mosquitoes.

Anonymity can be helpful in some ways. Sometimes this allows for people to create bonds with others that they might not otherwise be able to create. The soft aura of the monitor screen acts as a protective shield. People are accustomed to sharing emotions, information…more of themselves than they might otherwise be.

Anonymous at Scientology in Los Angeles

While I am Nixie Pixel here, it may surprise you to know that it isn’t my real name.  =p I get to share with you some of myself and my life while still keeping my work (as this has become my full-time job) and personal life separate. One reason I chose to do so is because I am a gamer. My experience with gamers online has been very positive for the most part, but occasionally while playing a game that is normally played by mostly male gamers, such as “hardcore” shooters like Gears of War 2 or Modern Warfare 2, I experience the ugly side of online gaming.

I had always known that online gaming was full of “unintentional bigots.” People who use the term “gay” as a perjorative, or particularly hateful racial or ethnic slurs, or say offensive things simply because of gender.

Perhaps they do this because they expect it to hurt and they need to vent anger, perhaps out of simple familiarity with the term and habit, perhaps for other reasons. But the shield of the monitor or television also protects those who seem to take out the aggressions of their personal life on other gamers from the consequences of their actions. The soft, soothing glow of the monitor seems to be akin to waving a flag in front of a bull, for them.

As an aside, to some extent this is true of the Linux community as well. I have personal experience with this, and perhaps the same reasons that cause gamers to feel good about personally challenging others are also true of Linux users who feel the need to make offensive remarks about operating system choice, gender, computing habits, or even choice of distribution.

Whether someone takes an unhealthy obsession with another too far, or simply wants to cause (emotional) pain and anguish, the Internet is a wonderful place for the anti-social among us.

And competitive games seem to be among their favorite feeding grounds. Instead of celebrating a shared passion, in a group of people who have often (especially in the past) been ostracized for their choice of hobby, the culture of gaming (and of the geek/computing and Linux communities, to some extent) seems to encourage division based on differences.

Women who take part in these communities are familiar with hiding personal details. Many choose to represent themselves as genderless, or even male, to avoid the problems that those who are more open tend to face. Many of my peers choose pseudonyms to avoid people who want to pry too much into our personal lives, and for both men and women I know, online stalking has turned into real-life stalking.

Women are particularly at risk for this. I try to connect with the people who watch my videos as best I can, sharing my personality, and perhaps a bit of my knowledge. Because these communities are predominately male, and many people drawn to computing or games have suffered at the hands of their peers for being different, some may feel that they will always be misunderstood by females, and so may be particularly drawn to someone like myself, who also grew up suffering for the same reasons. Sometimes people assume familiarity or a personal connection to an extreme.

I sympathize with the WoW players who spoke out against Blizzard for their decision. I can only imagine what it would have been like for celebrities who play WoW such as Mila Kunis or Felicia Day. I am very happy for all players that Blizzard has reversed their course of action and decided not to require people to use their real names to post. I know that the intention was to reduce trolling in the forums, and this is indeed a worthy goal, but there must be better ways to do that. The separation of character and person is a huge part of roleplaying, and for the sanity (and sometimes even protection) of many players.

  • Econael

    Back when I played WoW it was of no importance/consequence whether someone was female or not.

  • On XBL, a female voice over the mic always causes a major stir. Soon after hearing that voice the lobby will erupt with claims that its really only a little boy pretending or asking for naked pics. It is really the false bravado that comes with being able to hide behind or mic or screen. It isn’t brave, it’s cowardly. Cyber bullying is a major problem in the online community. Anonymity, while it is the primary culprit of issues like cyber bullying, is necessary to protect the real life safety of community members.

    The issues that are raised by anonymity of the internet are only really going to be fixed by the users themselves. I really think that the vast majority of the online community are great people and remain that way even when given the protection of anonymity that the internet afford. It is usually just the asshole in the lobby that ruins it. t is important that the one person or few people who is ruining it for everyone else to become ostracized. If someone is being an asshole just mute them and if you feel comfortable announce that you are going to mute them. If someone is being bullied for whatever reason come to their defense or just be a friend to that person.

    -Michael

  • Izzy

    I’ve been playing Heroes of Newerth lately, and it has a built in voice chat system. Since voice chat is faster, and typing at length is difficult due to my disability, I choose to speak in any game where I can. In games like Left4Dead and TeamFortress2, I find it rare to have someone spaz out about being a woman, when I talk. But for whatever reason there seem to be no female players in HoN. I haven’t met any, and no one I play with has either. So as soon as I open my mouth to ask a question or make a suggestion, the entire team erupts in chaos. Its really annoying.

  • I feel for you, Nixie. Being a female on the internet has got to be tough — I’ve been witness to the countless droves of males that don’t know how to act around a female – either online, or in person. People seem to forget that, just because you’re on the internet, doesn’t mean you’re not a real person sitting at that keyboard. If people were more cognizant that the person they were talking to online was a real person, I think the problem would be ebbed. Alas, this is not the case. The best I can do is my little part of showing respect toward female gamers and those I find elsewhere on the internet, yourself included.

    By the way, we need to play some Sins one of these days! Hit me up on steam/xfire/whatever.

    • I’m sorry, I had to comment to say that the idea of it being “tough” to be a woman on the internet is absolutely hilarious! It’s difficult being part of a community if you have no backbone, it has nothing to do with gender really.

  • Clanky

    Anonymity makes the internet what it is. If people were readily identifiable online then many would behave very differently, in some cases this would be a good thing, in most it would make the internetz just that little bit less interesting. To be honest I am sure there would have been ways to get around WoW’s decision anyway, but the greater issue is that with people having to be more and more politically correct in real life the internet is somewhere that people can come and (within reason) air the thoughts that they feel they cannot air in real life.

    For the most part this is fairly harmless and ends in nothing more than a little emotional butt hurt for those who can’t learn not to take things too seriously, but in some cases people say things which are genuinely offensive and which would result in prosecution (or at best a punch in the face) in real life, but I would rather let that keep happening than lose the ability to be able to poke fun at others without having to weigh up every dotted i and crossed t.

    So in conclusion shut up you geeky ginger freetard. 😛

  • dfactory

    I think Blizzard plan was focused only on forum IDs, not the games per se. But correct me if I’m wrong.

  • Bob

    Your real name actually isn’t Nixie Pixel! You have completely destroyed the illusion.

    It sucks having to deal with Internet stupidity but that is just, IMHO, human nature when you are not in front of the person who you are harassing. With no fear of retailation, people will say anything they want.

  • This is one of the most intelligent and genuine positions I have read about real-names Congratulations and thanks Nixie. You wrote about online aggression in Linux or gaming communities and you gave me a couple of good ideas to understand this sad reality.

  • TheDarkTrade

    I can see both sides of this, however I would imagine with the curtains of anonymity being removed, people may behave a little better, and less likely to rage on others. However im not sure this out weighs the “stalking” factor that this would cause. A lot of my gamer friends are female, and I tend to get put in the “big man over her shoulder” position all to often.

  • Maniman

    By parts , here are different things…

    -Games and freesoft arent directly comparable , a game have a finality (somebody wins and somebody loose or a mix of these two ) , the freesoft are pure “praxis” , and they own are the one and only target.

    -Freesoft in general have other business model than Blizzard ( Services vs Products ) , and one its for a minnorty (in final users terms) and the other is a masses event (in all terms) , Blizzard only make actions in users benefit if the laws force to them.

    -Theres not different from the real life , the interaction are the same , other thing is the underlying tech or media , plus , the real world was be definitively worst , look at our generation childs (mid 80’s) boy games and girl games , somethings are changing and its a win in equalness terms.

    – “socially-awkward gamers and people with low self-esteem like so many moths, gnats, and mosquitoes.”

    Absolutely respect less ( Before you will write demanding respect and equalness for the techgirls… )

    -Internet are only a few routers and cables , in the same way like enterprises objective are make money , and Blizzard isnt an exception (nothing more far , are one of the most restrictive company ive ever seen ).

    Surprise me how a person with the knowledge and learning skills like you should be can talk in that way.

    Really Surprised.

    No Bad Blood with me Nixie , are only my opinion , I’m tryng to look so “low level” as I can because the complexity of the “High Level” sometimes give us an distorted image of the really important things of the tech.

    YOU MUST USE THE TECH , THE TECH CAN MAKE US MORE FREE (AS FREEDOM ) OR FULLY SLAVE.

  • Graham

    I play WoW now and yes it eats you entire life 😛

  • Try Sauerbraten – http://sauerbraten.org/

    Possibly the greatest free multiplayer fps game out there.

  • I play Company of Heroes, and i miss my life… 😛
    I don’t even remember the tast of ice cream… :S

    lol

  • Peter Young

    Thanks Nixie for your helpful and fun site i have learnt more about windows and linux then i could from any course.. great post. 🙂

  • Jon

    This is what I do not understand about Google trying to force people to use their real names. I see it as extremely passive aggressive and stand-offish when I go to use YouTube, it asks me if I want to use my real name, I decline, and it gives me a list of reasons to not use my real name, none of which is “I don’t want my fucking name being displayed publicly.” Thankfully they’ve backed off on that a bit. Facebook only gets away with it because you use it based on the concept that you can control who sees what, and even hide your very existence. No one would use Google’s different services if they forced displaying one’s real name.