Having been a gamer since my teenage years, I’m pretty familiar with representing myself in a virtual world. While some games offers customization of an avatar, the most common element is usually a username, also known as a gaming handle. When other players encounter you in this online world, they know you by your handle, not your real-life name. Over the years, I came to realize that my online personna could sometimes find its way into the real world, with undesirable results.
The first situation I’m going to describe revolves around the handle. When creating gaming handles, I now know to exercise caution, as the name may be seen in a context that isn’t… appropriate. I have personally experienced this before, and it is both and amusing and troubling tale. At one point in my life, I went in for an internship interview, and when the interviewer arrived, he pulled up the electronic version of my resume on his laptop. I couldn’t see his screen, but after a few moments, he looked up, and said: “ToadLurker?” It took me a couple seconds to realize that yes, I heard correctly. ToadLurker was my gaming handle, but I didn’t understand how it had anything to do with my resume. I confirmed the name as my own, and asked him where he saw it. It seems the file’s properties actually contained the author name, which, by default, seemed to be related to the Windows logon name. This is where I learned a very valuable lesson – despite the gaming, your Windows account should always be based on your real name. Also, the handle should be something that you can show to an employer without being embarrassed. Certainly not something that you’ll want to do, but I feel it to be a good rule of thumb.
Similarly, it is important to resist the temptation of using gaming handles as usernames for non-gaming websites. Recently, as I was using a finance-related website, I realized that I could not remember my username. I had to call their support line, and the agent eventually told me my username: ToadLurker. Registering with that username was obviously a mistake (rarely use it -hence why I couldn’t remember), but it was pretty awkward to hear that on the phone, and have to acknowledge that it was, in fact, your username. You’re also probably wondering what ToadLurker is, and to me, that’s the amusing part. To a random person, it doesn’t sound very good – it almost sounds like ToadLicker, suggesting I like to lick psychoactive toads to get high. Even if they don’t think this, the word “lurker” doesn’t really inspire trust in anyone.
Along the same line, by the way, don’t register on websites using an e-mail address that is too embarassing to show to a potential employer. I used to live with a guy that had an e-mail called firstname.lastname@example.org. Just keeping that e-mail address around is a risk to his reputation… what if it accidentally was seen by an employer? I used to have a good laugh imagining what would happen if he actually sent his resumes using that address.
Finally, to put an end to your wondering, I’ll explain how I came to adopt ToadLurker as my gaming handle. It goes back to my earlier gaming years, where I played Starcraft, a real-time strategy game, most of all. I really liked one particular unit, called a Lurker. Lurkers burrowed into the ground, and stayed there, awaiting enemy units. When enemies would walk near burrowed Lurkers, they would be immediately attacked by spines that pierced through the ground. The Lurkers themselves remain burrowed, making them great ambushers. I always liked that concept, so it found a way into my gaming handle.
The Toad portion actually started at SOAD, which is an acronym for System of a Down, a band I listened to at the time. SoadLurker was therefore my first draft, and I kept it for a while. A few years later, I began playing Battlefield 1942 with a clan, regularly. During one of our league matches, a shoutcaster decided to broadcast our match. He was essentially watching the match, and behaving as a regular sports commentator would. After the match, the team got together on an audio chat program, and listened to the shoutcast together. At one point during the match, the shoutcaster noticed me doing something in the game world, and tried to pronounce SoadLurker a few times, with little success. He decided it was too hard to read, so he asked his wife what she thought. Her suggestion was to just call me “Toad”, as it was simpler. Upon hearing that, the team had a good laugh, and I decided that yeah, why not call myself Toad?
That was, of course, a very long time ago. At this point in my life, I’m very supportive of the idea of using real names as gaming handles. They’re much less likely to lead to awkward situations like the ones I have experienced.