An interesting thing happened a few weeks ago. Riot, the maker of League of Legends, banned 5 professional players from competing in the qualifiers for the third season of the LCS. See the details of the first ban here, and the second with this link. The second ban disqualified an entire team from competing. This is an encouraging action taken by a gaming company that is serious about the positive impact its game has on the eSports scene, so kudos to Riot. But that isn’t what really interested me. There was some rumbling in the community and on the forums about the ‘outing’ of these players personal identities, which kicked my brain into overdrive. Is anonymity a right? Or is it a privilege?
Regarding these bans, my opinion is pretty straightforward. As a professional, you are already a public figure. Anonymity is eliminated when you choose to go pro and compete for money, so in this case I don’t see how people can feel their rights were violated. And certainly after the horrific behavior they demonstrated towards others (who have the right to log on and not get trolled, berated, or verbally abused), that feels morally cut and dry.
This brings up a larger and more interesting facet to gamer tags in my opinion. Is your gamer tag an extension of self, or shield from others?
Leodar and all its variations (Leodaric in LoL and PlanetSide 2; Leodar on Steam games and Blizzard games, and LeodarTBoK in other instances) is an extension of my personal self. I am Leo, and Leo is me. I can’t even fathom doing something that would smear that tag, because it’s how I identify myself to the gaming world and how I see myself in the gaming world. The idea of using that name as a shield from my personal identity to do and say terrible things to other gamers makes me a little ill and very uncomfortable. In fact, I guess this post is my response and contention with the famous (and funny) Penny Arcade comic.
It’s bullshit. Not complete and utter bullshit, but mostly bullshit. The problem is with the ‘Normal Person’ part of the equation. Anyone who uses their anonymity to be a ‘Total Fuckwad’ was – in my opinion – already one, albeit without a safe outlet for their true self. Change ‘Normal Person’ to ‘Closet Fuckwad’ and we’ve got a better picture of the truth. I feel completely comfortable saying that if anyone who has gotten to know me in-game would feel no different if we got together for dinner or drinks.
There is another facet to this subject of anonymity that is intriguing, but I believe strengthens my argument. Some people need to use their tag in the virtual world as a shield, but not in the same way as the trolls. Some of us are in situations where our opinions cause enough backlash and disagreement that it could pose issues for our personal life if our identity was unmasked. Using your tag as a shield in this way is totally appropriate and completely different. I would argue that in those circumstances your tag doubles as your identity and protection, and I would imagine that those people would be just as upset if they were forced to assume a new online identity in the community. In my mind, there is a big difference between hiding behind your identity or using it to protect yourself.
There is a fundamental difference between these two functions of gamer tags. One person looks at their character creation or username selection screen and cares about the identity they are about to create. The other just wants to be anonymous.