Posts Tagged ‘Clifford’

I was recently talking to my students about the potential ways that technology will affect today’s children as they grow up.  Following on Anomie’s post about her daughter’s cyberself development, I am extremely interested in seeing how these things play out (maybe this is due to the presence of my own pseudonymous cyber identity).  The other day I came across a post on a gaming website examining digital identities and self reflection:

Although some use their real names and conceal nothing about themselves, most of us rely on constructed personas when we participate in online games. For the past 12 years, I’ve used the moniker “Clifford” while gaming. Truth be told, I have no idea where the name came from. Few of my real-life friends are aware of my alter-ego, while I have a bevy of online and community friends who exclusively know me as Clifford.

I wouldn’t say that I live two disparate lifestyles, but there seems to be a distinct disassociation between Omar Yusuf and Clifford.

So who am I — Clifford or Omar?

In an essay written in 1995, digital-technology theorist Howard Rheingold made the claim that “the latest computer-mediated communications media seem to dissolve boundaries of identity.”

What Rheingold means is that under the auspices of the Internet, the attributes which characterize our “identity” are often absent. The vocal and gestural queues that we use no longer exist. Our sense of humor is less palpable. Our values and ethical standards become irrelevant in-game. It is both impossible and impractical to try and socialize on the internet in the same way we socialize in real-life. In that vein, online gamers often allow avatars, handles and profile summaries to represent them while gaming online.

This brings us to a pivotal question; are online identities absolutely necessary?

I for one believe they are. Although my Steam account profile is relatively honest when compared to those of my fellow online gamers, I don’t normally provide my name to those who ask. For some reason, like most gamers, I’m reluctant to engage in candid interpersonal discussion while online. Handles and screen names provide a security blanket that we can hide behind.

So do I use Clifford as a security blanket in order to free myself from judgment and insult, or is the name completely arbitrary and meaningless?

Richard Coyne, a professor of architectural computing at the University of Edinburgh, would disagree. He claims that the “security blanket” turns out to be more of a mask. The professor argues that while the mask hides the gamer’s true identity, it’s not completely secure because it often reveals details about who lies behind the mask.

Maybe there is something more to this security blanket/mask distinction.  An online persona such as Omar’s may be acting as a security blanket to the extent that it protects him from potential prejudgments based on his name (Clifford does not seem to have the racial or ethnic overtones that a name like Omar Yusuf does).  I also wonder if gaming identities are typically distinct from other online identities (such as blogging or commenting in online forums).  Outside of my posts on this blog, I actually have a fairly stable online persona in the form of variations on a single user name that I use for nearly all of my online interactions, despite the fact that those interactions do not overlap.  Maybe the real question is whether I am using these online identities to create security blankets or masks.  I suspect it is a little bit of each.

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