Tuesday, January 20, 2015


I don't really understand why gamers are so eager to maintain anonymity in their online games.

Scratch that. I understand why many people want to be anonymous. What I don't understand is why they expect a culture of anonymity not to produce negative consequences.

It seems like most people are familiar with this Penny Arcade comic. It's popular enough to have become a sort of running joke, that's sure to be mentioned whenever someone misbehaves online. Surely the observation behind it - that anonymity can cause a lot of antisocial behavior - carries some weight. But for some reason, nobody ever draws the conclusion that we should make it harder to be anonymous online.

It's amusing that this distinction between your online and real-life personas is treated as being some sacred and inviolable right, when it's really a very recent invention. Most societies throughout history haven't had anything of the sort. In the past, the people you interacted with regularly would know your name, what you looked like, and where you lived. And someone who wasn't so well-known, a stranger or a loner, would inspire distrust. Internet communities are likely the only societies in history where being anonymous is viewed as acceptable.

I'm not saying we should go back to fearing the unknown. But it seems clear that the current model isn't perfect either. And knowing the people you interact with has benefits. Having more information means more ways to connect to others, and more accountability decreases the amount of bad behavior. On the other hand, the upsides of anonymity are - what, exactly? You might want to keep employers from finding out you're a gamer, but is that really all people are concerned about?

I think it would be very interesting for a game to require users to register with real ID, and then show your real name ingame. Perhaps it could even display a photo and your location. I think game companies would see it as risky, but I also think that if it took off, the resulting community would be one of the best available.

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