Daily Archives: February 13, 2007

The Sin of Allusion

Being a somewhat grumpy individual at times, I do find things to grouse about.  There are always little annoyances that get to me.  One of them is the way people name their characters in multiplayer games.  There are a number of different things that annoy me, but I am going to stick to just one with this post.  I refer to it as “The Sin of Allusion,” though “allusion” is used ironically, as what annoys me is the lack of subtlety.  A sane person might just say I was complaining about people appropriating  famous names for their characters.

The Early Days – Darth N00b

This naming issue started bugging me over twenty years ago, when I was playing the game Stellar Emperor.  Being a space based game, the lame names often had a common theme.  Many a noob logged in for the first time with the name “James T. Kirk,” “Spock,” or “Darth Vader.”  Believe me, there is nothing quite so impressive as somebody calling themselves Darth Vader who is so lost in the game that he cannot even tell he is broadcasting all his commands on channel 1, where the rest of the game can see his struggles.

This is also where I learned, early on, that there are varying degrees of name swiping.  Picking the wrong name, usually by picking a major character from a well known work, Ender Wiggen as another example, is just asking for trouble.  But there are a plethora of lesser known characters in the works of science fiction and fantasy that are fair game.  Picking one of those names to take as your own can actually be quite rewarding.  Most people won’t get the reference, but those that do usually appreciate the subtlety and that they are in on it. 

I also learned that there was a exception to the well known name rule; you can use it if you can actually live up to it.

As an example, there was a player in Stellar Emperor who went by the name Berserker, taken from the Fred Saberhagen books.  This guy had written an automate fighting interface for the game that made him absolutely deadly in combat.  For quite a while, nobody could beat him one on one, and frankly, four players taking him on in equal ships stood a good chance of dying.  Somebody who can manage that can get away with that handle. 

The MUD Years – Drizzt Need Not Apply

Playing Toril MUD, I was free, for quite a few years, from people using well known names.  The population of Toril was small, relative to an MMO, and the naming police were out in force.  They had strict rules on names and a literate set of administrators to catch those who dared stray from the rules.  Those who tried to appropriate famous denizens of Forgotten Realms lore (on which the MUD was based) found themselves in trouble pretty quickly.

Of course, that just increased the allure of getting a good name.  I ran around with the last name “Telcontar” for quite a few years, which I justified to those few who got the reference, by pointing out that I travelled and mapped thousands of rooms in the game on foot, thus actually earning it.  Others too, managed to get names with subtle histories.  But if you got caught, you had to change your name.  There was no recourse. 

EverQuest – Petitioning Sauron

And then came EverQuest.  Massive meant, despite rules on allowable names, lots of people running around with variations on “Gandalf” and other fantasy names.  Such names were everywhere, and while the GMs would make people change them when they caught them, there was too much else going on for there to be much time dedicated to policing names.  I particularly recall one guy running around with the name “Sauronofmordor.”  I’m glad he was specific, or I might have confused him with “Sauron of St. Louis.”  I don’t know if he ever managed to live up to that name, but I do know I petitioned it.

WoW – Gimlli, Gimmli, or Gimlee?

Which brings us up to today, and the free-for-all of World of Warcraft, which has so many players that enforcement is impossible except in extreme cases.  While they seem to have blocked most of the obvious names, variations on the major fantasy names abound.  In one sense, this has probably been a good thing, as it has dulled the annoyance at seeing yet another person using a name they cannot possibly live up to.

On the other hand, it does depress me a bit when I see how far somebody will go creatively to copy a name.  Go to Warcraft Realmsand search on just about any spelling variation of any fantasy character and you’ll find a few people who, for example, wanted a dwarf named Gimli so bad that they opted for Gimmlee.  I always think, “With all of history, science, and literature to choose from, you chose that?”

Does This Have A Point?

Yes.  A simple request, really.  Don’t do it.  Do not go out, create a new character, and try to name him after some major character in science fiction or fantasy.  Trust me.  It isn’t worth it. 

I know The Lord of the Rings Online is coming out soon.  The temptation will be huge.  Fight it.

If you have to pay homage to your favorite work of literature, do it in a subtle way.  Find something really obscure, something only those who really know the work will get, and use that as your name.  This actually has two benefits.  The first is that people won’t think you are lame right away.  You will actually have to screw up first.  Second, people who know and love the same work you do will spot the allusion and probably send you a whisper.  You might actually end up finding somebody to group or guild with that shares a common interest.

Of course, this is not the only sin you can commit in character naming.  There are others.  This one just bugs me more than most.