As I mentioned in my last blog, I am both fascinated and frustrated by online poker names. Some are simple enough and strike me as relatively inoffensive. "aaronbeen", "shaundeeb", "JasonGray", the ones I don't even have to type when I report because they become redundant--these are great. I don't even mind the simple number/name/school combos like "USCPhildo", "mattg1983", "ckingusc", "AJKHoosier1", "JP OSU", "uscjess" (heh heh), "THAY3R", etc (although I think the excessive number of "USC" names, albeit the wrong one, make me appreciate them more than I should).
There are even several online poker names that I really just love and appreciate because they just sound cool: "FatalError", "snagglepuss", "SLOPPYKLOD", "MrCasino", "BigRiskky", "THE_D_RY" to name a few.
Then there are the indecipherable. hfus832gai. YGhas&t76dq. Ones that look like that. First, let me just be up front and admit that I am lazy. I don't like having to set aside two minutes to type out someone's online name. It is also unbelievably difficult to memorize these and I hate not being able to quickly rattle off the online names to other people.
Now this is where I may lose some more ardent online poker fans. To say that I hate when people are only referred to by their online names in real life would be excessive. To say I just don't get why people do it would not adequately address the issue. Why don't we just say my feelings rest somewhere in between those two poles and that I do not like to refer to people by their online name rather than their given one in a live setting?
In my line of work reporting on the online poker pros playing in live tournaments this can be somewhat problematic. Oftentimes players ask me who someone is and I respond "Oh that is Justin Rollo."
"No, I mean his poker name."
I understand. When you play online poker as your occupation, you have only the name and perhaps an avatar to define these people by. I get that, I really do. But I must admit, it is kind of humorous to me when I divulge their online name and the player I am talking to will say something like "oh yeah, he's a buddy of mine" or "I know him" despite clearly admitting he/she does not even know this person's name.
Brett and I actually got into a bit of a debate regarding the online vs actual name debate regarding photos on P5s Live. One of the odd glitches in our photo galleries on the site is that the captions cannot extend past one line or else it will throw the rest of the photos in a given gallery out of alignment. Therefore, several names must be abbreviated in order to fit into the allotted space.
In these situations, Brett elects to use the first initial of a person's name, their online moniker, and their last name. I always opt to forgo the online name altogether for a couple of reasons. First of all, the space consumed by the quotations marks around the online names further restricts the number of letters you can fit on a line. Second, I find the quotations to look cluttered when they aren't adequately separted from the first and last names with a space. Third, it is much less time consuming to just quickly type their first and last name and photo galleries can easily eat up hours of our time. Finally, and most importantly, I adamently believe that we should never forgo someone's actual name for their online name.
As I explained to Brett, these are people, not video game characters. Craig Gray's mom likely does not refer to him as "My son, MrCasino." This is the obnoxious academic in me I suppose, but I am concerned that our identities in a virtual space are spilling over into real life. I completely understand that many of these guys are only known within the community by their online poker names so, whenever I am writing a post, I always include both. However, in instances like photo captions where one must be chosen over another, I can't reconcile eliminating someone's actual name to make room for an Internet identity.
Part of the appeal of online identities is their inherent ability to deceive and manipulate. It is a chance to be someone you are incapable of being in real life and the control you have over your persona on the web is obviously appealing. Plus, the lack of policing and verification of identities on the Internet results in the opportunity to create an identity that in no way reflects your personality in real life.
It might have been in his WPT Final Table interview with Amanda Leatherman, but I remember Luke "IWEARGOGGLES" Staudenmeier explaining that he chose the name as means of getting action at the table because it is kind of silly. We can't do this in real life as easily. I can't really dsiguise the fact I am a female and I look like I'm 12 when I am playing live, although many times I wish I could. While I can ham it up sometimes--throw on a Little Mermaid t-shirt, wear my hair in pigtails, etc, etc, I still have to work within a certain set of parameters of my actual identity. Not only in online poker, but in other games/sites in the virtual world like WoW, Second Life, and MySpace people are able to become someone they are not or an exaggerated version of themselves with relative ease. As someone who has spent most of their life leading a relatively dull existence, I can absolutely see the appeal.
That does not change the fact that these online personas are not actually us in real life though. I know this is going to sound rather paranoid and silly, but I am sincerely worried for the day when a fabricated construction on the Internet is able to become its own personality and entity outside of the computer without a name and a face behind it.