Charlotte Hagstrom closes out Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A “World of Warcraft” Reader with her chapter on Gaming and Naming in World of Warcraft. In this essay Hagstrom goes into detail regarding player names and their relation to the identity of the person playing the game and not just a way to distinguish one avatar from another. Specifically she discusses the importance of a name in general, not just in an online experience, as well as the origins of these names and their acceptance among both Blizzard’s name laws and Azeroth’s unwritten guidelines.
If there were no names in society, be it America, China, or Germany, communication and interaction would essentially fall apart. Distinguishing individuals from one another would be nearly impossible. This is no different for World of Warcraft. In fact, it may be even more important in a universe like WoW’s. Everything has names, from people to places to objects. Rivers, fields, buildings, etc. all have something that allows us to tell them apart from the other. And typically their names have some sort of significance. Often they are a reference to a past town, person, or idea, or sometimes just based upon common words for that society.
Hagstrom says “The names signal a meaning and become tools for the player to use in her exploration and understanding of the world.”
So when it’s in the user’s hands to create the name of their own character, Hagstrom digs into Web forums, blogs, and other sources to find out how these important decisions are made. Often these names are translated versions of surnames into Icelandic or Norse forms to fit the WoW theme. Sometimes literary, historical, or religious themes influence the user’s names. And other times the names can be completely random.
These random names however can have consequences that can require users to change their names or in some instances ban their accounts. Blizzard has a pretty strict naming policy in order to create a more realistic environment for serious players in Azeroth. Names based upon pop culture (specifically noted was Lord of the Rings) are given the boot quite often. They also like to see names reflect races chosen by players. All of this, although harsh in some cases, makes the immersive experience of World of Warcraft even deeper.
Being a gamer myself, I reflected on my own gaming name choices over the years after reading this essay. With multiple name changes over seven years of Xbox Live and two different World of Warcraft characters (one for only a month trial, the other for this class), I never took giving myself an identity very seriously. Typically I had either a sport or TV reference, or just a simple adjective (clutch) to go along with my fellow teammates for a Call of Duty team. Personally I feel if my gaming tendencies were different from the beginning, my naming would be severely different. I played exclusively shooters and sports games for most of my childhood with Role Playing Games taking a back seat. Never was I able to immerse myself in a world like in a game like WoW where I felt an identity was necessary. Instead I was either controlling my favorite athletes to victory, or I was just another soldier on the battlefield.
While reading this I felt Blizzard’s name rules were absurd. The story of CmdrTaco left me heartbroken. They really cared that much that his name wasn’t as serious as some of the other players? Then I thought more about it. This is what makes World of Warcraft and Blizzard stand out opposed to the rest of the gaming world. They create an experience unlike any other game will do. I overuse the word “immerse” but I can’t find a better way to get my point across. To enjoy this game to the fullest, you truly have to immerse yourself in the game, the story, the mechanics, the names. The amount of detail put into every last aspect of a town, from the inns to the weapons to the NPCs walking around make the experience of Azeroth that much more special.