Virtual worlds blog Terra Nova takes a look at some of the choices players make when naming their avatars in Massively Multiplayer Online games, examining the rather mundane inspirations that guide some decisions.
While focusing mainly on a World of Warcraft forum thread that examines avatar names derived from common household objects, Terra Nova’s Timothy Burke also touches on a very interesting point about the intersection between names and voice communication:
Other times, we’ve given some thought to how a neologism or random name sounds. But other times, the question itself is a bit of a surprise, and we suddenly realize that something which was entirely textual up to that point is now also oral. It’s really interesting to see how people negotiate that moment of invention, where they have to decide just how to say the character’s name, or decide that they don’t really care how it’s said and will respond to any recognizable variant pronounciation.
As I’ve examined in the past, character names are important to a player’s immersion in the game world. If my character’s name is unpronounceable, or untypable, I have to accept that other players will refer to me by a nickname or shortening of my chosen character name. If you cannot adapt to the name that is bestowed upon you because of the inherent complexity of your chosen name, you’ll find your immersion lessened.
The fact that most games put up barriers to name changes, ranging from a not-insubstantial fee (as in World of Warcraft’s $10 charge) to a complete prohibition on changes (as in EVE Online), suggests that game developers understand the importance of a consistent name, both for continuity of reputation within the game world and for that sticky, immersive quality that keeps players playing—and paying for—the game.
Further, a name that seems silly or essentially random or, worse, pulled straight from popular culture, signifies to others that I do not take the experience of participating in a virtual world seriously, at least so far as creating an immersive environment is concerned. In my World of Warcraft days, I used character names as a guide when evaluating guild applications. Stupid names need not apply.
And yet some players simply pay no heed to what they name their characters. Perhaps this is in part derived from the near ubiquity of “handles” or avatar names these days—everyone has multiple forum and chat identities. Too, MMOs often force players to name characters and decide upon character appearance before any other choices are made, and players can be quite anxious to dive into the gameplay itself.
But there’s no excuse for naming your character, whom you will ostensibly spend hundreds of hours developing, “Chair.” Just don’t do that.