Names are magic

Ombwah's picture

To name a thing is to... what?
In many myths, to name a thing is to control it. At the very least, knowing the name of a thing, the real name, the name that meant precisely what that thing was, gave someone great power over the thing. Still, plenty don't recall names well at all, especially in stories like those found in movies or books. It might be argued that Shakespeare's characters could be said to imply that names aren't so meaningful after all. Or maybe what's really being said there is, that they are. So, this makes me wonder; Are names important in our games too?

How about when a player creates an RPG character? Is naming a single player game character different than naming a character for a shared-experience game, like an MMO, a battleground game or a Pokemon-styled game where your name and data will be shared with other players? There are some online RPG servers that require that names follow strict convention, is that lame?

I've been doing this game-making stuff a while now, and as a content creator I think about this sort of thing quite a bit. In my career, I have named or collaborated to determine the name of hundreds -- even thousands, of characters, places and -- well, things. From heroes to landmarks, cities, even elements of faith have been named with my input to be experienced by thousands of people. People with different backgrounds and contexts for the names we as developers have supplied them. I wonder which stand out most, which mean something to players, which stick and which don't and why. I've worked with people that took care to name things according to some deeper plan of theirs, and those that chose almost at random. I've worked on games with characters named from classic rock songs, from classical myth and legend -- which of these names were best? Does it matter?

The other day I was making myself another MMO character. I chose my race and profession, fiddled with my new appearance, bestowed a name then was prompted to choose a server. Well, I like RP and I like PVP, so I made those selections and the server-suggestor-tron spat out a name -- 'Lightninghoof". I thought that name was, to be honest, sort of lame. So I checked other servers in the list, but none of the names really stood out to me. In fact, 'Lightninghoof' was about the most intriguing name there. Well, I conceded that since I was making a sort of minotaurish dude -- with hooves even -- I could be content with choosing a server named 'Lightninghoof' so off I went.

Now, if I was influenced to choose a server based on a sort of intangible relation there, the relation between 'Tauren-Cow-Man' and 'Hooves of Lightning' -- who is to say that others aren't similarly influenced as well? Do developers of MMO's unintentionally segregate certain kinds of players by something as innocuous as server name? I know that when I had to choose which sea my first Puzzle Pirates character would sail upon, I chose the Midnight Sea because that was a far cooler sounding sea to pirate on than 'Azure'. Likewise when I made my first EQ2 characters and was confronted with a choice between the two RP servers, one named after Lucan D'Lere (Lord of the 'Evil' city) and one named for Antonia Bayle (Queen of the 'Good' city) well, I chose Lucan D'Lere.


So, I'll ask again. What influence do the names we pick as developers have on the players?

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