My post last week on pseudonymity discussed some of the benefits to immersion that pseudonymity brings, as well as some of the problems for online communities that pseudonymity creates. How might we be able to have the best of both worlds and avoid the worst of both worlds? There is an answer and we need look no further than the Society for Creative Anachronism.
When you register membership in the SCA, or register/check-in at an event, such as the annual Pennsic War, you use your real world identity; what SCA members refer to as a “mundane” identity. Because using your real name can be immersion breaking – especially if it clashes with the period and location of the persona you are undertaking to recreate – people take an alias – known as a “scadian” name – for colloquial usage. The purpose of a scadian name is not to hide your real identity, but to provide an immersion preserving nickname. You can’t escape from the consequences opf your actions. If you annoy others and change your scadian name, you won’t see any difference in how others react to you.
How might this paradigm of using real world identification for administrative purposes and colloquial aliases with persistent reputation work out?
There is an excellent mechanism for using real world identities; Facebook Connect. People use Facebook not as another online only identity, but as a mechanism to keep in touch with their offline friends and family. Because of this, Facebook users typically have large investments in their Facebook identities and users are required to use real identities with Facebook and fake or anonymous accounts are closed. Facebook seems to have cleared the hurdle of users accepting the usage of their real identities, though older users are more likely to still use a semi-anonymous FB profile or stay away from Facebook altogether on privacy grounds.
How might we prevent the immersion breaking scenario of knowing that the elf priestess is being played by a balding man named Frank Smith? Allow Mr. Smith the option of creating and maintaining player aliases; essentially a meta-avatar or a pen name. Alternatively, every character could also stand in as a player alias. These aliases are for IC use. Players can use a nickname when making OOC posts on the world’s forums, but they can’t use the IC aliases to make OOC posts. Conversely, IC posts on the forums can only be made with the IC aliases and the only in-game identifier is the IC alias. Players can choose to show or hide their alias links when their profile is viewed by other players. GM staff and admins can always see the linkage.
Establish a player karma system similar to Slashdot there the dimension being measured is the congeniality of the player; on the scale from total jerk to pleasant to be around. This measure should not include roleplaying skill, but merely how much fun this individual is to play with. A player may have only give rating per alias that they encounter, though they may change their rating at any time. These ratings are collected on the user and not kept separately and the rating of the player is visible to anyone. This means that a player who consistently acts like a jerk will show a poor rating with a new alias, while a player who is pleasant to play with would show a good rating with their new alias. This way, an established player with a good reputation may also use that reputation anonymously. Other players may not know who is playing the new elf priestess, but they know that she is being played by an established player with a good reputation.