There are many reasons why someone would want to go anonymous, pseudonymous, or both. Perhaps your orthonym (given name) doesn’t match your identity. You share an orthonym name with an infamous person you don’t want to be confused with. It’s a difficult name, hard to pronounce, particularly for people from other cultures, so you find an easier name. You’re a performer and you need a more presentable name. You’re an artist dabbling in an experimental side-gig that you want to differentiate from your main oeuvre. You want to shitpost on the internet, but don’t want your partner to tell you off. You want your work in a certain space to be private. You want to play different characters, as all the world’s a stage. You’re a criminal that wants to evade law enforcement. You’re not a criminal, but your work falls into ethical, legal, and social grey areas. You’re a group of people wanting a collective name. You are uncomfortable being in the limelight, feel alienated by it, and just want people to focus on your work, rather than the person(s) behind it. There are many reasons to use a pseudonym!
While the title above uses the word “Anon”, there’s certainly a distinction between anonymous and pseudonymous. For example, one could use pseudonyms in their professional life for different work, but they are not anonymous - people in the industry, auditors, lawyers, workers union etc. know their orthonym and legal identity. However, their online pseudonyms can be also anonymous - well, there’s a spectrum. There are some pseudonyms they will take to their grave. There are others where only a handful of people they trust will know. There are others where it’s barely a secret - for example, using an Instagram account to post photography.
The focus of this post, however, is being anonymous, particularly on the internet, and more specifically having different anonymous pseudonyms - the titular Anon Game. There’s the technical stuff - using a separate internet connection, a separate browser, a separate PC or perhaps multi-boot with a privacy-focused Linux distro, using Tor, so on and so forth. These topics have been covered widely, and there’s nothing I can add to it.
Less covered are the creative aspects of being anon. Essentially, playing the anon game is creating new characters. As such, learning creative writing is the essential skill to employ here. While writing prose is certainly a beneficial skill, the anon game is more aligned with playwriting or screenwriting. Now, once again, there are tons of books on those fields, so I’m not going to lecture you about how screenplays are written. As an anon, your goal is either so no one knows your orthonym, or you’re playing a multi-anon game and you don’t want anyone to know your other pseudonyms. Either way, the same principles apply - you want to create a new character. Or maybe you don’t, or maybe something in between. But anyway, let’s talk about creating a character.
The first step is to understand your audience. Often, the audience for one of your pseudonyms will be radically different from others. Of course, you should never generalize, but different memes (in the broader sense, not funny gifs) proliferate in different communities. More interestingly, you may see the same meme be interpreted radically differently. Once you know your audience, you can either try to blend in, be deliberately conspicuous, or something in between. Usually, choosing somewhere in the spectrum is the best approach if you want to be convincing.
Of course, you have to understand your own character as well. There are many ways to do this, but creating a Friendster profile offers a great cheatsheet to start off with!
Perhaps more important than knowing your pseudonym’s favourite movies is developing a linguistic footprint for them. Not to say that isn’t important - of course it is - and humanizing your pseudonym with dropping tidbits like so goes a long way. This is the weakest link for your anon, assuming you get the technical stuff right - which is fairly easy to. There are multiple approaches to this. One would be to play a character and incorporate grammar and slang specific to certain cultures and places. The temptation here is always to go with fun cultures with colourful vocabulary and turns of phrase. As fun as this can be, it’s ultimately an obvious deception that won’t hold up to scrutiny and call attention to itself. Depending on how serious your anonymity requirements are, this one’s a no go.
As an aside, a common mistake made while creating your character is giving in to your impulses in making a character that’s as different from you as possible. Unfortunately, this often has the opposite effect, and furthermore, it’s significantly more difficult to play someone who is the polar opposite of you. So, you must find a balance - you’re not creating someone who is anti-you. Indeed, the optimal approach is creating “someone like you” but with some crucial strategic differences.
Another fun approach is incorporating various elements from different cultures, emulating a global nomad. However, most nomads do have an implicit identity they carry with themselves throughout their lives. So, in the end, it would seem like the boring option - playing an inconspicuous internet person becomes the best one as you blend in. There are two problems with this: a) it’s pretty generic and boring, b) you’ll eventually slip up. The best compromise, then, is to build a character with a fairly realistic background, and blend in. Remember, every sentence you write, you must write as this character. Even if you do slip up, you will then slip up as a character and not yourself.
Finally, most important, and also most nebulous, is building a relatable personality. It’s incredibly difficult to write a recognizable character, and here, I’ll not bother writing much as it can’t possibly be captured in a blog post. A common method used is basing characters on people you know and love, but for obvious reasons this is inappropriate for playing the anon game. So, instead, take inspiration from some of the best characters in your favourite books, movies, games etc!
Beyond text, there’s voice. Of course, there are technical ways to manipulate your voice, but a great skill to learn is voice acting. Mastering different dialects, accents, intonations will go a long way, in addition to the technical solutions.
As you may have noticed, I often emphasize making the anon game fun. This is important not only for your well-being, but also for your performance. If you’re not feeling it, always drop your anon without hesitation, and leave it behind with no regrets. That’s the beauty of the anon game - you get to live multiple lives!