Regulating identity online

Check out this interesting slashdot entry CmdrTaco put up regarding Blizzard's decision to force him to change his online name.

I've had some interesting conversations with Beth Noveck about online identity, so I immediately sent this link to her when I saw it.

This triggers a couple observations for me.1. How violated he felt when this decision was made. He says, "A real human is wearing a shroud of anonymity and handing out the bitchslap to a total stranger. That really makes the whole experience even more dehumanizing." Telling, as WoW is an entirely virtual experience.

2. How attached he is to his name, even though it is an alias: "It's always the first name I try when a system asks me to create an account. I feel strangely possessive about it. I doubt I'm alone in being attached to a pseudonym. And I feel kind of stupid admitting it."

3. That he himself runs a membership-based online service, and he makes clear that he will change the rules on participants as well when he thinks it benefits the site as a whole: "I spend a lot of time working on the Slashdot moderation system, and I never have any problem changing any "Rule" in the system if I believe it will improve the overall functionality of the whole system."

4. The bad taste in the mouth caused by the fact that the GM implementing it is hiding behind an alias, even though the dispute regards an alias:
"The GM I talked to had a nickname of something like Lathanian. I found this disconcerting."

5. In contrast to the powerlessness of the GM, the seeming randomness of the decision rendered, and the relative Kafka-esque unappealability of it: "...the GMs at blizzard really have no power. I asked for contact information. For email information. For names. For an appeal. To talk to a supervisor. And the best they would give me was the generic help phone line or a mailing address. Like with a stamp! I was told that almost every question I asked was unanswerable in game. I gave an email address but they never emailed. They wouldn't even tell me what was wrong with my nickname until after a half dozen inquiries of why. You have really no recourse against a GM. That scares me."

6. How virtual support can be dehumanizing: "Personally this is something I struggle with in my work too. You deal with a hundred support requests and it starts becoming abstract. Unreal. Virtual. I doubt it's much different if you work at the support counter at a retail store, but I think it's easier to forget when the only communication is chat." It's easy to make decisions that impact others when you're removed from the impact of those decisions.

This story, clearly an unedited rant from a "citizen" of an online world, is extremely telling. It displays some of the ways these new online identities are meshing with our physical identities in subtle, non-rational ways.

CmdrTaco says, partially in conclusion: "In a massive virtual world, we're still people."

Actually, we're not. But I know exactly what he means, and that I absolutely agree with.

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