The Game of the Name

Within most games there is an aspect that is lost among the minutia of a story; names. The power of a self named component within a virtual reality serves to connect the player to the alternative reality but removes names’ importance within the narrative. Names allow for the process of player-to-player connectivity but are insignificant to the story within the game. The narrative of the game forms around the actions of the player but does not change depending on the players name. Naming an avatar Harold has no more effect on the narrative that naming it FleaBottom.

In World of Warcraft names provide the sense of personal connection to an avatar while simultaneously supporting all the necessary functions of the game. The naming system is a procedure in W.O.W. that creates the illusion that each player is meaningful but in actuality it subjugates every player into the predilections of the system. The act of naming within a virtual system is the most fundamental aspect of alternate reality games, but ironically it is what truly separates the player from the avatar.

Names are essentially an identifying code used by systems within the game to allow for player-to-player actions. Were names to conform with the story, guilds, teams and raiding parties would be impossible concepts purely because a player would not be able to contact a specific avatar or group. They would only be able to choose within a limited set. Imagine a guild where every avatar was named “Nightmare”. Organizing a raiding party would be a tedious task; a player having to cycle through each Nightmare’s stats to discern them. What about searching for a player, making a trade, starting a chat? All these basic functions of the game rely on a original names for players within a realm.

There, as seen from a 2011 survey of WOW names, is no shortage of originality of names. At last count there were 3.8 million original names for the 7.9 million players in US and Europe. There are more original names per-player in WOW than in the US and Europe. That, seemingly independent, aspect of the game is still constrained by the system itself. Names have requirements that must be fulfilled before the Avatar can integrate into the game. Names must original within the realm, can only contain certain symbols and must not contain inappropriate language. Those are only the rules that would prevent an avatar having a certain name within the programming. There are two full sets of rules that regulate naming in WOW; enforced by Game Masters who operate outside the conventional player protocol.

By allowing players to pick names from a incredibly large pool, the system encourages individualism within a narrative. WOWWiki illustrates the separation of player to game the best. In quest synopses on the Wiki, instances in which the NPC addresses the player is delegated by <player name>. The name of the player is nothing but a code for the game to process in achieving its grander goal of an alternative reality. The NPCs address you by name, and announce missions stating “I’m glad you’re here <player name>…etc.”

Despite its best efforts, WOW will never be able to simulate a true reality. The protocol’s reliance on using names as a code separates life from virtual life. In the real world, a member may live outside of their name by using a pseudonym or nickname. WOW ties its systems up with your name. The avatar’s name in a realm is that avatar’s primary identifier and is the only one of its kind within a realm. The coding of the game forces it to address the avatar by its designated name and no other. This lack of flexibility, to be confined to one identifier, is what divides the player from the game.

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3 Responses to The Game of the Name

  1. I’ve definitely noticed a big emphasis on names when it comes to engaging with other players. I’m definitely more inclined to talk to a player with a cool name, and definitely try to avoid people with dumb ones. I think you’re absolutely right to say that it predicates most other aspects of the game. It really doesn’t matter if you’re playing solo, but if you’re going to engage with other players, it makes a difference.


  2. Steph Roman says:

    There’s definitely a hierarchy and cliqueyness for people in MMOs based on character names. I personally like referencing other great characters in my names. In WoW, since we only play it for a short time, I stick to my gamertag. If I was going to really get into it, I’d pick something better (i.e. more original).

    There’s an essay titled “Gaming and Naming in World of Warcraft” by Charlotte Hagstrom in the WoW Reader. If this interests you, I’d definitely look into it. It’s not particularly intriguing, but if this is something you’re interested in for Essay #2 you might be able to find something to expand upon.


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