Saturday, February 21, 2015

Account Ability

"Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!"
- Arthur Miller, The Crucible

For the low-low price of eight dollars, you can change your online game name. Never mind what game. Maybe in the one you're playing right now it's just five or maybe it's twenty-five bucks. The question of course is "why should you" and game developers are quick to offer rationalizations. In the Planetside 2 interpretation, maybe you picked a name like "Pinkie" and you're just worried you don't sound macho enough. Now, to me it seems the ideal solution would be to team up with some other player named "Brain" and try to take over the world, but maybe I'm just too much a child of the nineties. The question remains why this should be worth eight dollars. I mean, for the price of enough calories to keep yourself alive for a week in real life, I should assume the issue is not merely stylistic. I still have game characters using my old name of Werewolfe instead of Werwolfe and I've never felt the slightest inclination to pay money for the privilege of changing that. I doubt some leet-dood named "B4d4$$" is going to pay just to switch to "B4D4$$" or to give up on spelling his name all in caps and nums because... I dunno, he's found Geebus or something.

Note the absence of this "feature" from single-player games. It's also no big deal in regular FPS games where you hop among a thousand different random servers. In MMOs and small competitive games where customers have a good chance of meeting each other again and having to depend on each other, wiping the slate clean becomes a salable commodity. Ah-ha! Now we're on to something. Somehow, being part of a larger community makes people want to change identities every so often. Could it be that once you've won the respect and trust of your fellow players through various acts of justice and glory, once you've built a sterling reputation, you'll one day just wake up and demand the privilege of paying eight bucks for a new nametag?

Heh. No. Name changes represent only another form of legitimized cheating. It's the cheaters, the hackers, the griefers and run-of-the-mill dead weight who want to escape the repercussions for their actions. All the knuckledragging, airheaded genetic scum you've promised yourself you'd never spend another minute with, that's who demands server transfers, name changes and a horde of alts, one to grief and troll you in every corner of the game world. Most of the population, I've found, is composed of were-weasels.

Interestingly, accountability and integrity fall in the lonesome no-man's-land at the middle of the divide between games and reality. Nobody really wants to think about this.
On one hand you've got the idiocy of characters using the player's real name (e.g. BobIsAwesome the level 15 fighter) or "alternate reality" content or even guilds demanding your real name and place of residence when you join (expecting you to be part of their "family") any and all of which is inexcusable. A game is a world in itself. Ideally, meatspace would hold no sway over the matrix.
On the other hand we get the even more moronic-erer catchphrase "it's just a game" which every morally incapable little snot has learned to spout believing it absolves him of any guilt. Certainly the above condition works in reverse. Just as meatspace should have no impact on virtuality, so virtuality should not affect reality. The escape from reality should be complete. Playing Grog the mighty pillaging barbarian should not cost you your job as Greg the mild-mannered mail clerk. It should, however, be stamped on your damn forehead in-game so everyone knows you're a sadistic parasitic prick and can treat you (Grog) as such. Yes, it's just a game. Then isn't your bad reputation "just a game" as well? In a persistent world, the persistence of your destructive actions persists, and so should the record of those actions. If no-one else should mind your sabotage, stealing, leeching and other griefing, why do you mind their minding? So nobody likes you. So you cant get any teams, you're getting spawn-camped by your previous victims and everyone's demanding you get permabanned. So wut, amirite? Cm'on, dood. It's just a game. Why you so salty?

Anonymity is crucial, but only as a wall between the shithole of a world we seek to escape and the escape itself. It should never be allowed to become an escape from one's own actions, and though it's difficult to ensure this, forcing players to adopt one stable identity would go a long way. If Grog suddenly decides being unable to get a team because hes a known griefer kinda, you know, sucks an' stuff, there is no excuse for allowing him to simply switch to his alt Grieg the minstrel with a sterling reputation. No excuse, but apparently a decent bit of profit. Sure it wrecks the game world by letting worthless little cretins get away from the backlash for all their stupidity but hey... it's eight or twenty-five bucks extra in an executive's pocket.

Humanity, on or offline, is composed mostly of sniveling little weasels. The blacklist is much more important than the friend list. Reward those who own up to their actions. Value those who will not sign themselves to lies. And don't even bother pretending that's not the "real" you, Grog. If you can't act ethically in a computer game, you sure as hell aren't doing it when something real is actually at stake. Who you are when it's "just a game" is who you are. People don't change and neither should their permanent records.

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