8 September, 2008
One of the best and worst things about the internet is anonymity. On one hand, anonymity allows people to be whistleblowers without putting themselves at risk; however, it also allows people to spread lies without being responsible for the effects.
So, let’s think about this in terms of online games. How does anonymity affect gameplay and metagame issues?
One obvious problem is that people will do vicious things to other people with few fears of repercussions. Some people call this the “punch in the face effect”, where you can say things that you would never say offline for fear of being punched in the face if said to another person. People who grief online aren’t always the nicest people, but they can sometimes be surprisingly decent people offline. They just don’t take online interactions seriously.
In Meridian 59, anonymity has caused a major problem. A common tactic was to roll a new character and try to get in good graces with the enemies of your guild. After gaining confidence, the mole could then take over guild halls and/or steal items from the target guild. This lead to a lot of heartache, but it was a mechanic designed into the game by the previous designers. A patch in the current incarnation of the game puts a special line of text in the description of a player that is truly new to the game. Re-rolling an old character means that you won’t have that line and people can be more wary about your story of “just starting the game.”
Consider, what kinds of gameplay could you design that take anonymity into consideration? Could you design interesting mechanics that take that into consideration? For example, a lot of text MUD designers talked about systems where you had to be introduced to a player before you even knew their name; before that, the player may appear to be like an NPC. This was intended to get people to interact more if they wanted to get to know others, or people could ignore others and remain segregated if that suited them.
What do you think? How can anonymity be dealt with in gameplay?