CHICAGO, March 1912 — As the nymwars have helped elucidate, there are many reasons to use a pseudonym. To avoid an abusive former partner, to avoid a repressive government, or simply to immerse into an RP character/identity as deeply as possible, are but a few. In fact if you think about Orthonyms, Pseudonyms, and Anonyms, it may be that in the online world, the pseudonym is the most frequently useful of all.
If you want to scream on 4chan, being anonymous works pretty well. If you want to pay your taxes, you kind of need your orthonym or “wallet identity.” But for an enormous range of things in-between, your “internet handle” is really ideal. That anonymity of 4chan doesn’t serve a lot of applications where you might want to have a persistent identity and build up a reputation. If you’re going to make a lot of edits to Wikipedia, you’d probably like some community cred for your work and so being anonymous doesn’t help there. But nobody at Wikipedia needs or wants your taxpayer ID.
When making the case for Pseudonyms to new media regimes like Google, we often press examples like the abuse survivor or the dissident blogger because their cases are so important and so dramatic. But simply allowing people to “Role Play” or as Franco Mattes has put it “reveal your ‘true’ identity by wearing a mask” is also important and powerful.
How important is it to not be outed if you’re “only” doing RP? Only exploring identity? As far as I’m aware, the single greatest examples of the power of deep RP immersion and of the devastation of being outed are both contained in the 1980 film Somewhere in Time. By sheer sense of will, or if you will, by deep, deep, deep immersive RP, Christopher Reeve’s character travels back to 1912 where he falls in love with a character played by Jane Seymour. The “RP” / Time Travel is complete until he accidentally outs himself by reaching into a pocket and pulling out a penny with the date “1979” on it. His suspension of disbelief is broken, his RP is destroyed, and he returns to, as Lewis Carroll once put it, “dull reality.”
I’m pathologically incapable of quoting Lewis Carroll without also quoting Dale Wasserman, so here it is:
But maddest of all — to see life as it is and not as it should be.
The end of the 7:37 clip below is where Reeve sees the penny. You can dive in anywhere to sample the depth of his “RP” immersion, perhaps around 3:00 is nice.