The Virtual Mask

As Bob Dylan once said “the times they are a changin”.  I remember when I was little the internet was non existent and gaming with your friends meant you were sharing a screen, and a couch in the same room.  Games like Contra,contra


were extremely easy to understand.  Run forward and shoot anything that moves.   The hard part of the game was typing in the cheat code for 30 lives.  Up, up down, down, left, right, left, right, a, b, start.  If you are over the age of 25 and that code is not embedded in your brain, then you missed out on a small piece of pop culture.

The landscape of games have changed, with playing online being a huge attraction for most gamers.  A gamer now can act inappropriately and have very little repercussions since the use of “usernames” are in effect and most people do not know the real person behind the virtual mask.halo4

Games like Halo 4, for example, offer online multiplayer games in the vast universe of “Halo”.  Players use a variety of weapons, and gadgets to defeat each other.  Some actually modify the game to gain an advantage.  This is against a moral code between players in Halo.  Yet there is very little one can do to stop this type of thing since the mask of a username hides their identity.



Anonymity in the Gaming Sphere

Without our physical identity to prove, who exactly are we behind the computer screen? In reality, we are our same old selves, but in virtual reality, we have the ability to revamp our entire being. Living a double life on a chatroom, social network or game is so common today that there is no guarantee the 20 year old gamer girl is really a girl at all. In fact, for all the person on the other computer knows, it could be a 60 year old balding dad. But hey, who’s to say that the person on the other end of the game is really who they claim to be either? newyorkercomic

This anonymous gaming state of mind dates as far back as the 70’s, especially in the Multiple User Dimensions, or MUDs. These are multi-player role-playing online games, such as LambdaMOO or Dungeons and Dragons. The user has the ability to create his or her characters and living space. Through a chat device, the players interact and on occasion, build relationships that they wished were more realistic than just a game.

For instance, Stewart is a 21  year old college student with severe heart complications. He is extremely limited to any type of physical activity in the real world and is rather reclusive, so he goes to his game to make up for it. Through his extensive playing, he has met Winterlight. They began viturally dating and Achilles (Stewart’s character) eventually proposed to her in the game. Unfortunately, this popularity and self-confidence via gaming failed to transfer into Stewart’s real life applications, and is typically the case for many users (Turkle, “Who Am We” ).

Gender-swapping also runs ramped through these types of games. Some players may even have multiple characters they use at any given time. The gamers that decide to switch the gender from their real life self to the opposite in virtual reality like to experiment with the different gender roles and expectations, and many also are intrigued by virtual sex (Turkle, “Who Am We” ). The anonymous nature creates an atmosphere of experimentation that tends to go against norms in real life.

While many gamers may find close relationships in the friend zone or the romantic one, anonymity also creates the issue of harassment. In one such case, a character on LambdaMOO by the name of Mr. Bungle was virtually rapping various women characters using a voodoo doll subprogram. These women felt both personally and virtually violated, and requested that Mr. Bungle be stripped of his rights as a gamer (Dibbell 202-203). With anonymity in gaming comes virtual actions that are not socially accepted in reality. Although the gaming world offers both benefits and disadvantages, the vitual world will only continue to grow, and with that– anonymity.