I play World of Warcraft.
I don't want this to get off-topic from SG, so it'll be getting back to topics that are salient, don't worry. Yes, this is about WOW, but it's also about RPGs in a more general sense.
In fact for those who have noted my lack of participation of late online, there are several reasons for this phenomenon. But one of them is that I spend a lot of time playing WOW. It's a lot of fun, and I'll even admit, mitigates my other RPG needs to some extent.
But not all, of course. Not by a long-shot.
And this is because WOW is a very specific sort of RPG. It does what it does remarkably well. But it does so by pretty much ignoring everything else.
What does it do well? Well I won't go into too much detail here, as it's not the point of this post, but WOW provides a lot of visceral powergaming thrill. "I got a new trinket that's better than one of my old ones! Wooohooo!" And you feel like you've earned it (though...).
Anyhow, what's been really, really fascinating about immersing in WOW is the social fabric of the game. And I've immersed. I'm a Guild Master of a small guild of 65 characters that I sorta inherited from another player. Well, truth be told, my wife, through one of her characters, is the GM. But in practice I make most of the guild policy. I organize raids. I set up the rink-a-dink website. Etc.
On Doyce's wiki, of course: http://random-average.com/CrusadersOfStormwind/HomePage
How uncreatively cliche is that for a guild name? For those who've played, they'll probably guffaw.
Anyhow, what's been fascinating about interacting with the players of the game is the sorta anonymity. I say "sorta" because there's this strange phenomenon where at some point players reveal to you things about themselves.
Actually this is way more complex. It's pretty rare, I've found, for anyone to ever use their actual name. Happens occasionally, and I use mine simply because I'm rebelling against this phenomenon to some extent. But largely you know a player by the name of their character.
This is where it gets really odd. Part of what's odd about it is that nobody thinks it's odd (maybe I'm just odd). But when you refer to a player, you do it like:
"Hey Dijinn, you up to hit Shadow Labyrinths tonight?"
The player behind Dijinn, I've discovered is named Eric. Not sure if I ever learned his last name or not.
I still think of him as Dijinn, however, for the most part. Because that's how people refer to him. "Hey, can we get Dij to come on this run?"
Now the oddest parts are that this use of character name is despite the fact that the conversations are never '"In character." In fact they are usually at least metagame, and often non-game related entirely. A guildie speaking to me when I'm on as my "primary" character Silrukin (Gnome Mage 70 - Fire Spec - enchanter/engineer - some tier 5 items(BG Gladiator, mainly)), might say:
"Hey Sil, still having trouble with your kids? Can you give me a hand tonight?"
This, by itself, is not so odd. It's just that the character name is also a pseudonym for the player. OK. But there's quite simply no way to know if a person is playing "in character" or not. At least not that I've seen.
I love the fact that servers are divided into three types.
PVP - Player Vs Player - the only difference between this and a "Normal" server below is that alliance and horde can attack each other in contested areas at any time (not just when the other character is PVP). This subtle difference is important, but not what I'm discussing today.
RP - Roleplaying - I have not played hardly at all on a RP server, perhaps interestingly. But from what I've read, there seem to be no mechanical differences between this and a "Normal" server (if there are differences, somebody correct me). The only apparent difference is a social expectation that interactions will be in-character. That's according to the description. In practice, in the small amount of time I've played on these servers, I haven't seen any difference between how people interact here, and how they interact on a "Normal" server.
Normal - Isn't it wonderful to learn that roleplaying, even in a putatively role-playing game (you know, mmoRPG) is abnormal? There are more normal servers than the other two sorts, so maybe "common" would be more accurate. And maybe they mean that it's normal in that there's no social expectation set, and the rules are baseline? Or maybe they mean that the vast majority of players find actually roleplaying in a RPG to be fruity. In any case, the social expectation on a Normal server is that you interact with the player directly.
I mean, as an inveterate TTRPG player, every time some player says:
"Sil, how many kids do you have?"
I am very tempted to respond: "152... we gnomes are a prolific race."
I am not Silrukin. He's a character of mine. But most people only know me, and respond to me as Silrukin. Sil for short. I really have no idea how to sign my in-game mail.
Worse is the fact that you can have as many as ten characters on a server. Most people eventually will have at least one "Alt," short for alternate character. That is, for some reason, players identify with the character they've played most often, thinking of these characters as "primary." And all others as Alts. Do Dijinn has a character named dmg (short for damage, I assume, as he's a gnome mage, too, and we do wreak so much damage). One would typically say, "dmg is Dijinn's alt."
Interestingly, as you have no way of knowing which characters belong to which player, they have to inform you of this:
dmg: "Hey, Sil, this is Dijinn's alt here. Can you let me into the guild?"
Interestingly, in the scenario above, as a player I have no easy way to identify whether or not the character in question is, in fact, played by the same player. A clever person could discover that somebody had left a guild, and then using his character, claim that the character in question is an alt of the character that left.
The only way to be sure is to have the player log off the current character, and then log back on as their other character, and verify that the alt is, indeed, the alt.
So what am I on about here? The level of conflation of player and character here is amazing. It's probaby an artifact of evolution that it has ended up this way. But the system makes no effort whatsoever to delineate between player/player interactions, and character/character interactions. In the terms of The Big Model, this is CA incoherency at it's best. An open invitation to have My Guy Syndrome abuses occur.
And these do, in fact, happen a lot. A lot of people seem to make the assumption that if they don't know somebody, it's OK to screw them over, as long as it's in their best interest. After all, it's not a real person getting screwed over, they argue, it's just a character in a game, right? If you get riled up about it, you're taking the game too seriously.