One of the things that has always fascinated me is the different way gamers view online anonymity. As anyone who's read my rants about Real ID will know, I value my privacy pretty highly and I've found it hard to understand why others don't feel the same. Sure, we've all had bad experiences with people hiding behind that mask acting like arseholes, but then some people just ... are aresholes, and I'd never put it down to anything more than that; the majority of the anonymous players I've met have been perfectly polite and respectable.
There's a superb article by Jamie Madigan over at GamePro that sheds a little more light on this from a game designer's perspective. Madigan quotes one designer, John Comes of Uber Entertainment, as saying:
"Anonymity gives the illusion of zero consequences and the issues it causes have factored into every game I've designed."That's so far from my own experiences that it's hard to imagine how we can be observing the same thing - how can I be seeing friendly, cooperative behaviour from anonymous players on my RP server in WOW, while others are seeing malignant dog-eat-dog social breakdown?
Fortunately, Madigan comes to the rescue. The research he quotes suggests that anonymous people don't just automatically behave badly but, in the absence of a strong sense of self, look for cues from others as to the "right" way to behave. Anonymous players thrust into a server with a strong community may actually behave better than they would otherwise. Put the same people into an environment where aggression and selfishness are the norm, and you get bad behaviour.
I'd always put it down to personal prejudice that the behaviour of the people from the PvP servers that Argent Dawn sadly shares a battlegroup with was so much worse than my nice little fluffy-kitten-filled RP realm, but Madigan's article implies that it's the hostile nature of PvP servers that makes people act that way.
It seems my drunken philosopher friend was right...