Unlike those handed us at our birth (and with few exceptions kept throughout our lives), names in games are completely self-inflicted; we have control over what the floaty text above our heads announces to the rest of our pixel world. And announce it does -- more than many people even stop to think about. A name is so much more than just a convenient way to send whispers or in-game mail to others within Aion; with only a glance, your name implies much about you, your playstyle, and your personality. It is not uncommon for people to actually base their grouping decisions, their legion recruitment, their trust in you, and more on just a simple glance at your in-game moniker or your legion tag.
Whether the impact is born of reputation or of first impressions, others have a reaction to and make decisions based simply on names. Fly past the cut to see how different monikers influence the world we live, fly, and fight in.
It's a fact of our society you cannot ignore -- some names are equated with something specific, such as an idea or a product. What was once an individual term can, in fact, become better known as a category for all similar things. How many people ask for a cotton swab? Few, if any -- they ask for a Q-tip. The same holds true in Aion. Certain names and certain legions become equated with specific things, be it roleplay, PvP, underhanded exploits, boss-farming, skilled and efficient groups, or simply relaxed people easy to hang out with.
Think of Pavlov's dogs in an MMO: One glance at a name instantly triggers specific emotions and thoughts. Either by repeated personal experience or by collective knowledge, certain names elicit specific responses. How many times has a team entered a Dredgion, seen the tag Cadia, and instantly groaned or shuddered? Plenty admit to it! It didn't matter that closer inspection revealed lower levels and gear (though only in supremely rare cases); that first triggered instinct colored the rest of the team's perceptions and ultimately affected the battle. If you want to invoke a specific set of feelings or thoughts in someone, all you need to do is display the name that those thoughts and feelings are associated with (Leeroy Jenkins, anyone?). It's no wonder that legions can get pretty bent out of shape over actions that besmirch their carefully cultivated reputations.
Legions, however, aren't the only names that inspire instant reactions -- certain members of each faction have reputations that precede them, whether on a smaller scale (withing a legion perhaps) or larger scale (faction-wide). Want to spark interesting banter in LFG chat on the New Israphel server? Do it -- simply mention Goldenrice or Mortred. I am sure the other servers also have their own high-profile "celebrities" who invoke an instant response. Then sit back and just watch.
Three degrees of naming glory
While some people may simply click a random name generator in other games, such is not possible in Aion. Each prospective Daeva must take the time to invent a unique moniker. What names are ultimately developed though, can have a lasting affect on how the player is treated. From those who take the care and forethought that is usually reserved for parents who are naming a tiny new bundle of joy to those who just spit out whatever they can come up with to get past the creation page and into the game, there is a range of naming approaches. These approaches, however, can be broken into three main categories: personal meaning; shock value; and just because. Each of these categories has general impressions that accompany it. While these impressions are not a given in all cases, they have been proven pretty accurate in both observation and experience.
Some names have special meaning. Some even travel with players from one game to the next. More than once I have seen a familiar name and asked whether it was a long-lost gaming friend (no being the usual answer, but sometimes I get lucky). For these people, names are acknowledged as an expression of personal identity. Players can agonize over finding just the right name to capture who they want to be in a game (and no, I don't just mean roleplayers, although they tend to have the most thought-out names). I have known people to use language dictionaries to give a name a specific literal meaning or use names that are important to them in their real lives.
Many people in this group are also very protective of their names. When the server merges came and names were once again up for grabs, there was a definite race to get online first . As we reported after the merge, some people actually were vengeful and took the names of other players (both same and opposing faction) out of spite. While in some cases the appeals process resolved the issue and the original owner was given back the name, in other cases players had to get used to seeing a once-feared enemy name speaking right in LFG chat.
Running across a person within this naming category generates the greatest amount of instant trust. Intuitively, people equate spending time on developing a name with someone who pays attention to his or her character, who is more thoughtful, pays more attention to detail, and is invested in his character. Contrast this with the feelings inspired by the other categories.
You know who this group is without my even having to spell any of it out. These are the "clever" (and I use quotes because we all know it's not) misspellings of crude things. Some names just look like obvious attempts to see how far they can push the naming filter before being reported. Some get downright offensive, and some are just really... juvenile. Using names such as these only gives the impression that the person hasn't even hit puberty yet or is simply completely socially inept. When faced with a name from this category, impressions that come to mind are: ganker; someone who doesn't want to play by the rules; selfish; out for himself only; and clueless about teamwork.
This group includes those who use names that appear as if they were simply the first thing that came to mind. Some people honestly just toss out something random to get past the character creation, and some use names of famous people, places, literary characters, or even common household items. While some would argue that common household words could have special meaning to someone and belong in the first category, they are here because of the of the general impression they invoke. Random common words or names often give the impression that the person has given very little thought to the character and is not invested in it. This means the person will not care so much. A subset of this group includes names that are simply a jumble of letters and even numbers. What does this say to others? Bot.
Bots R Us
OK, so you'd think that for the preservation of their livelihoods, bots would try to hide themselves and blend in a bit. And I am sure some do. But seriously, how many of you have declined a request for group invite from those with names the likes of Vjzrklw or G8vp1d? Nothing screams "I am a bot here to ninja your loot" like a random smattering of letters. Was any thought put into this character? You would be hard-pressed to convince most of that. If someone didn't put any consideration into his character, why would anyone else?
Now, an added bit of caution about names that currently end in the server initials attached right after the merges. Granted, when BobIS starts asking about groups, he is often overlooked by those who are suspicious as to why he hasn't changed his name, especially given that name changes were free. True, it looks very much like someone hasn't cared enough to be bothered. However, I personally know some people who were on the losing end of the name race, and being very fond of their name, kept their initial one, added tag and all, rather than rename to something that did not have meaning to them.
In all, while it is not a hard and fast science, how we choose to present ourselves still says quite a bit about our personality, and consequently, our gaming style. This in turn affects how others respond to us within Atreia, whether on a blatant level or on a more subconscious one. Of course there are exceptions, but first impressions and reputations do affect interactions regardless.
So tell me -- what names give you pause or bring out a strong reaction in you? What names would you scrawl on the bathroom walls of Atreia? Have you been denied a group because of preconceived notions relating to your name? Or conversely, have you been treated well or given attention because of your moniker? Please, share your experiences.
Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down weekly to bring you Wings Over Atreia. Featuring tips, guides, and general snippets of life in Aion, the column is better than Tutty-on-a-stick, ackackackackackack! Have a suggestion to share? No need to bribe a Shugo -- just send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.