Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Will Who?

I was just thinking of internet anonymity.

In my "real" life, I'm fairly well respected. I mean, sure, people think I'm an arrogant asshole - but they think I'm an arrogant asshole who's usually got something interesting and often entertaining to say.

So, when I talk with people I know, I know where I stand. I know that my commentary is heard, if not necessarily agreed with. Because most of my daily interactions are with people I know, my real-life conversations are on rather comforting footing.

I was thinking about the internet version of this.

Will Wright is a god to most gamers. If Will Wright posted to a game development forum, there would be two responses, repeated a zillion times: "Ohmygod it's Will Wright eeeeeee!" and "You can't be Will Wright, stop pretending!" Then everyone would be totally intrigued by what he was typing, although the "respected" people of the forum would pretend to treat him as if he weren't their hero and was just another fellow worthy of respect, in vague hope of getting him into a conversation which would prove they are worthy, and while trying to avoid gross grammatical errors such as clumsy run-on sentences like this one.

But if Will Wright posted to, say, a forum on how to manage your 401k plan, people would simply treat him like any newb: judge him on the content of his post.

Obviously, this is the same in real life. If I walked into a bar and started talking, people would judge me by what I was saying (and whether they were in any mood to listen). But that doesn't happen very often to most people. We rarely have to deal meaningfully with people who don't know who we are. Even when we're dealing with strangers, we've got an angle: they're asking us for help, or we're asking them for help, usually. We know roughly what position is occupied at any given time, even if it is occupied by a total stranger.

If we do go into a bar, we go in with friends. We bring our connections with us, we bring our respect structures with us.

So, in life, it's pretty uncommon for someone to enter a situation in which they are totally unknown and new.

Why is it so common on-line?

Every forum we go to, unless we're mega-names, is starting over as total newbs. It's uncommon to carry your "friends" with you, and when you do, it feels like you're using alternate accounts to beef up your rep.

I wonder how that feels, if you've got screaming hordes of fanboys. Would you relish the chance to be anonymous, or would you simply not bother with the on-line world at all? Would you post to a forum as "Mr. Wrong" until someone finally caught on that you were "Mr. Wright" - then abruptly stop posting?

How does it affect his ego, when he posts to game forums as a god, but anywhere else he posts he's seen as a nobody?


(Will Wright was chosen at random. I am not referencing anything he has actually done, as far as I know.)


Textual Harassment said...

Communities on the net are so well segmented, that users can easily have a different persona on each. Even if someone in the 401k forum is a rabid Maxis fan, he won't go "eeeee!" because it's not meaningful in that context.

And Wright probably isn't thinking of himself as a game designer but as a professional who needs to start thinking about his retirement.

I think people don't tend to bring their friends into forums because it makes it harder to put on a new persona. Also your friends may not even have that interest in common.

Bars are more like general-subject "chat" message boards--where people can be themselves, talk about nothing in particular, and share their interests. If Will Wright showed up there, there would probably be a large segment of gamers who would go "eeee" and an equally large segment of "Will Who?"s.

Face it, if you are a famous game designer, you aren't actually famous. And I doubt many think of themselves as such. It's probably only mainstream celebrities like movie stars who have anonymity/ego problems.

Craig Perko said...

Context is important, true.

What my question really is, I guess, is this:

There is a growing level of segmentation between different "societies" or "cultures" due to the rise of the internet. This growing segmentation also affects your real life, in many situations.

Does being famous in one culture, and largely restricting your interactions to that culture, have the same effect on your ego as if you were famous in all cultures?

IE, does Will Wright face the same ego-distorting effects as Will Smith, simply because he doesn't much interact with people who don't know who he is?

Textual Harassment said...

Probably not, because he can easily get away from it. Will Smith can't walk down the street without being recognized; in fact he goes to work every day to ensure that he is known by every segment of the population.

Some people will fawn over a celebrity without even having seen their work, just because that person is famous. Contrariwise, Will Wright is probably well aware that he is known for what he does, not for who he is. Gaming is still a meritocracy; any developer who thinks he can survive by fame alone is delusional.

(I think it would be interesting to poll players of The Sims: Who made this game? A)Will Wright; B)Maxis; C)EA; D)Don't know)

Craig Perko said...

That makes sense. I wish I could corner someone universally famous and someone famous in one field, and ask them some questions about it.