Can We Have a Little Privacy?

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After reading some of the articles from the past couple of weeks, in particular Lisa Nakamura’s “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game” and Tom Boellstorff’s “Personhood,” I have become more and more intrigued with the notion of being able to glean the identity of a player based off of their avatar in an MMO. In a world where maintaining anonymity is one of the most treasured and advocated rights of its citizens, i.e. the players, it strikes me as terribly ironic that so much time and effort is put into attempting to discern the identity of others. In Nakamura’s article, she argues Castronova’s point that people who play in online worlds are allowed to assume any identity that they wish for the reason that players are still profiled against. That may be so, but I think equally preventative to the goal of creating a truly equalitarian world based off of anonymity is our very human obsession over reading into one another. 

In “Personhood,” Boellstorff briefly touches upon the different ways in which experienced residents of Second Life can easily identify new players based off of their character’s appearance as well as how the player commands his avatar. For the most part Boellstorff focused on how inexperienced players are recognizable due to their being unused to the social norms that govern the world of Second Life, but he also goes into how some residents have attempted to recognize the same player operating under the guise of different avatars in the game. A similar phenomenon is chronicled in Nakamura’s article “Don’t Hate the Player…” in regards to how some World of Warcraft players spend a great amount of time and effort trying to systematically identify and then hunt down Chinese ‘gold farmers.’ What is intriguing about both of these examples is that despite the importance that most players assign to keeping their own identity secret, those referred to in these articles seem to have no problem trying to violate the privacy of others that they seem to hold in such high esteem for themselves.

Players of online games want anonymity in the MMO realm because they think it will separate them from the stigmas that they must deal with in everyday life, yet at the same time are still unable to respect the anonymity of everyone else. The concept of creating a place where race, gender, sex, and all other social profiles has no bearing on how people treat one another is incredibly appealing, and in theory online gaming, where players get to play as avatars entirely separate from their real-world selves, could provide that equal field. However, it would seem that even though everyone wants to escape judgement themselves, we are quite unable to respect that right among other people. One may say that the phrase “curiosity killed the cat” is appropriate here, or more accurately, “curiosity killed the opportunity.”

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One Response to Can We Have a Little Privacy?

  1. cstabile says:

    If I understand what you’re saying, you’re commenting on a tension between wanting to be anonymous and wanting to pin down identity. Or perhaps another way of putting it is the tension between positive aspects of anonymity and the negative ones? Perhaps you can clarify this in a response, because I want to make sure that I’m understanding you correctly.

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