He seemed a bit odd. The majority of the people at the store were hard-core computer gamers and high school students. Occasionally a group of young professionals would come in for a round or two of Quake over lunch or on a night out. That’s what stuck out at first, his schedule (well, his well dressed appearance was a bit odd compared to the rest of the clientele) - he would come in at any hour of the day and play for a few hours. Initially, someone suggested that he take a look down stairs rather than at the store front - things were a bit more interesting down there. So, he went down and watched someone play one of the games for a few hours. The next day, he came in and wanted to play the game himself.

He has been back almost every day since and he plays for a few hours. The shop owner next door knew him from years ago. He's not a someone that a person off the street would know - they may recognize the last name somewhere, a few might be able to associate the name with a line of stores. Very few at the store knew his line of work (don't worry - its perfectly legitimate… if you consider politics legitimate). Downstairs though, no one recognizes him beyond knowing he's a regular. And once in the game, he's even less well recognized.

One of the wonders of the net is the ability to become someone else - or cast off the familiarity of the person who you are in real life. You become a fantastic name… possibly a gender, class or score too (depending on the activity). But most importantly, you are who you put forth… in reality you could be a senator or a beggar it doesn’t matter to those who play with you hundreds or thousands of miles away. To them, you are some guy who is good with the sniper rifle and knows how to protect the flag… that’s all that matters.

This is especially appealing to those who have a public persona. To these people, you go somewhere, and the politics of the world they live in follows them - people asking for money, or an exchange of favors. Things and actions are expected from these people - the curse of fame? And here, on the net, they can loose all that and be regarded as just another person if they wish.

For all you know, next time you get hit by a rocket launcher in an online game… maybe that was Larry Ellison at the other end of the link.

Truly, there are few parallels in history for so many people to have deep and abiding relationships without knowing a) each other's appearance, b) their physical locations, and c) their legal names. About the only thing that comes to mind is the intelligence community (whose influence, along with the limited storage space of early computers, dictated why we insist on calling each other by poetic nicknames instead of names dictated by birth or marriage). Talking with my mother one Christmas, who is proudly "computer illiterate", I had to explain to her why I don't send Christmas cards to many of the people I know and love throughout the world. It's not that actual paper cards are expensive (they are), or that it's a pain to get them in the mail in time (it's not really, but still...), but that I don't know where to send them.

She asked me whether I couldn't look them up, but that begged the question of names... it would be difficult to mail a card to "Darkwing, somewhere in California (I think), who likes fugu and NIN."

I then realized that in most ways, I simply don't care to know.

Most names tell me less about someone than about the ethnicity and expectations of their parents, which in Mom's world was an integral part of getting to know someone. To me, it's immaterial. In many ways, "Darkwing" is better, since it might actually remind me that he likes depressing music and eating poisonous fish. Locations? Same idea. In her day, knowing someone's address helped peg them, not only ethnically, but socioeconomically as well. My friend Dark might actually be a native Californian, or he may not. Maybe he lives with three other roomies in a tract house somewhere in one of the innumerable Valleys, maybe in a mansion in Atherton. Again, immaterial, if what I want to do is play games or banter, and there's no guarantee that living in one isn't going to change to the other over a few years. And let's not start talking about appearence -- for years, the standard gripe of the intelligensia was that people were obsessed with looks and image to the detriment of more important things, like intelligence and verbal skills. I haven't the slightest idea whether Darkwing is short and fat, or tall and thin, and, since I'm not interested in bearing his children or even spending the evening with him as an arm ornament, it makes little difference.

Nowadays, the chattering classes have changed their tune: the Internet is evil because it forces us to deal only with the one-dimensional medium of words and ideas. All I can say to this is: so be it!

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