My pleading had finally been answered and a 1200 baud modem had been purchased. I sat in front of the computer, the card was installed and the software was waiting. There was a copy of MicroCenter’s weekly ad in my lap, and on the back page the list of BBSs had a few circled. I dialed up a place called Safehaven and created a new account. In the earliest of days, I was Jason Blood (though sometimes I was Etrigan). When I moved away from dialing up BBSs and instead calling up my ISP, I became Logan5. In 1999, I logged into EverQuest for the first time, and while I played around with a few names, I settled on Ishiro (later Ishiro Takagi). These days on Xbox and in a number of other places, you’ll find me as Jhaer (the “h” is pronounced, so it sounds like “hard” but without the “d” and with a “j” sound crammed on the front of it, one syllable).
In each form, I was always me, though I’ll admit to a bit (or a lot) of role play under various guises. But in 1998 I started putting my thoughts on the Internet, and while I was deep into Logan5 (though sometimes J) at the time, I decided to post as simply “Jason” (though often as “jason” – I used to have a long diatribe on why the lack of capitalization mattered, but for the life of me I can’t remember any of it except something about the importance of the self over the collective… yeah, like most kids in college, I went through one of those “I know everything better than everyone” phases too). As part of this, over the years, my social circles have all known about my interests, and I’ve never kept them from my employers. In fact, there are a couple of jobs over the years that I didn’t take and plenty more that probably didn’t bother to make me offers based entirely on their apparent stance on games as a frivolous hobby. So when it came time to enter a social network, like Friendster or MySpace or Facebook, it never occurred to me to not use my “real” name. I am me. Even when I wear another name.
Back in June of last year, there was a kerfuffle surrounding Blizzard’s new Real ID. It was totally and completely out-of-place there, and to this day I’ve only linked my Real ID with maybe five other people (my wife, my best friend, my best friend’s wife, and two other long time “real life” friends). This year, both Facebook and Google+ have taken a much firmer stance on real names, going so far as to ban accounts that don’t use real names.
Now, personally, for myself, I could not care any less. I use my real name on the Internet, and I deter identity theft by maintaining an identity not worth stealing (though if you wish to steal my identity and then pay off my debts, feel free). However, I do understand that some people want to maintain two identities. Even I did at the beginning. In the BBS days I was extremely protective of who I was, if only because in my real life I was kind of a dorky nerd (this was junior high and high school). It wasn’t until I was in the 11th grade that I broke down that wall and actually started meeting the people I’d only known online face-to-face.
— as a brief aside, let me take a moment to let that sink in and allow you to realize how different the world of 1989 is from today. I was a 15-year-old boy whose parents let him, actually encouraged him, to go meet complete strangers he’d met on the Internet. —
And I don’t mean to denigrate people who maintain multiple identities as something I’ve outgrown. My online journey after the age of 15 simply didn’t have much separation. The bulk of my friends we the people I met online, and we took those online friendships offline whenever possible with outings to movies, parties, etc. It was a conscious decision on my part.
Anyway… Facebook and Google+ have been taking a fairly hard-line on all of this, and while they manage social networks, I don’t feel like this is an area they should be so adamant about. Occasionally, the use of real names on the Internet will temper what people say, but not often. Despite posting with a real name, plenty of people are going to continue to be asshats simply because, real names or not, they just don’t consider the feelings of the people on the other side of the screen. Honestly, they are in the business of providing traffic and demographic data. As free services to us, the users, we aren’t the customer, we are the product. Should they care if I’m on their site socializing with the people from work or socializing with people who play a common game with me? I don’t think they should. They should only care that I’m on the site, and into which column they can put me down for selling my eyeballs for ads.
All this was brought on because I saw that Tobold got banned from Facebook. It’s a shame, because he was one of the few people who played games there and actually participated. With him gone, all my games just got harder and I’m less likely to play them. See… that’s the deal with a social networks: ripples.