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Sunday, 15 December 2013

A Good Case for Internet Anonymity in the RPG hobby

So I don't know how many of you have heard about this, it's already about a week old as news, but it seems that Clark Allen Peterson, of Necromancer and later Legendary Games, has gotten himself into some trouble.   Trouble, in the sense that in his day job, he's actually a State Judge; and apparently some people are trying to claim that his interest in the hobby somehow makes him unworthy of the position. Worse still, some who have appeared before him in court are now claiming that his activities in his RPG company and on RPG forums have affected the time he dedicates to his work, the speed with which he resolved cases, maybe even his impartiality.

This is all bullshit, of course.  If he, like a majority of other Judges, was a hardcore Golfer, fisherman, or had some other kind of more traditional hobby; and went out three times a week to play 18 holes rather than spending several hours each day talking about RPGs, no one would be questioning him.  Certainly, no one would have written a ridiculous yellow-journalism skewering like the article I linked to above.  Shit, in this day and age, if he was fooling around on his wife for the same number of hours as he was gaming, most people wouldn't bat an eyelash.  Its only the still-exotic nature of the hobby for people of this age-range and class that allows this sort of nonsense to happen.

Unfortunately, happen it does.  And Peterson now has to worry about disgruntled individuals who have a beef with his latest published game product or online forum post disrupting him at his place of work; or, just as possibly, having disgruntled or curious people from his workplace showing up to cause a scene at his gaming hangouts online.

There are a certain group of people in our hobby who claim that everyone should be forced to use their real names when writing and talking about RPGs, that this somehow acts a great equalizer or something.  It doesn't. Just the opposite: If I know nothing about you, if I don't know your race, your background, your gender, your sexual orientation, your job, your family life, or anything else, then all I have to judge you on is what you write and the quality of your arguments.  THAT is the "great equalizer".

I feel fairly convinced that the big advocates of everyone having to drop their usernames are people who have no jobs (or menial, meaningless jobs), no family to speak of, no responsibilities, in other words, nothing to lose.  Likewise, people who are happy to use the argument as a blunt weapon to try to silence others; I mean think about it, the entire basis of the argument amounts to a threat: "I should be allowed to know who you really are, so I can silence you by making the argument about your background rather than what you're saying; and if that doesn't work, so I can scare you that someone will mess around with your regular life if you don't shut up".

Sometimes, a mask is a necessary protection of our freedom to speak, and to say things plainly.  The notion of the "greater internet fuckwad theory" certainly has a point, and of course there are trolls who use anonymity to do nothing but prank or attack. But others are just as likely to use the lack of anonymity to do the same: witness how many people who didn't like what I've said have tried, over the years, to unmask me, to the point where some have engaged in levels of harassment that would border on being worthy of civil or even criminal litigation. Certain people have tried to make me lose work, sent harassing messages to people close to me; and of course others have threatened to "expose" or harass me publically if they were to just know where to do so.  Is it really any surprise that I want as few people as possible knowing anything about my life outside the internet??!

But its not just to protect my private life from would-be Swine-stalkers. Its likewise to protect my hobby-life from potential "stalkers" (albeit of a less dangerous kind) from my private life.   I don't want my hobby to cause people to be concerned that somehow my choice of games or how I spend my free time has any bearing on my ability to do my job; I don't particularly want to have family members and non-gaming friends showing up on this blog or on my G+ account or at theRPGsite to tell me how weird it is or how cool it is or to ask how D&D relates to the Qabalah or how we should hang out next tuesday because they're making gnocchi.  I don't really want those worlds to cross, not because I'm at all ashamed of either world, but because they are both their own thing.  

And its an unfortunate reality that as long as there will be people out there that treat liking RPGs differently than liking tennis or chess or knitting or fantasy football, and as long as there are people "in here" who will want to try to shut up or threaten an opponent by attacking the personal rather than the position, I will keep arguing strongly that everyone should have a right (in the RPG hobby, and the internet in general, in most cases) to be the ones to decide for themselves exactly how much or how little they want to share about their personal lives, rather than being forced to do so by others.


Currently Smoking: Masonic Meerschaum + Image Perique

1 comment:

  1. My position has always been clear: everyone's entitled to be respected on that.

    I disagree with you when you say: "I feel fairly convinced that the big advocates of everyone having to drop their usernames are people who have no jobs (or menial, meaningless jobs), no family to speak of, no responsibilities, in other words, nothing to lose. "

    I mean, I think that, as a general rule, people using their true names tend to be a bit less assholes.I run two businesses plus a psychological private practice, I have a baby girl, and the whole stuff, and I do not care about that. In fact, I decided to use my real name so no one would try and use an "outing" against me in any way.

    I agree, though, that for certain persons it may be best to keep the hobby separated from the rest of their life. I always assumed it was your case, so I respected it. If someone asks for his privacy to be kept, no problems for me.