Dateline Sep 5, 2002: Is this the end of anonymity for PuppetMasters?

December 13th, 2007

When an issue reaches the level where it affects the ability of the oldest and largest registrar on the Internet to conduct business, you have to sit up and take notice.

Will a lack of anonymity ruin the character of alternate reality gaming?

As reported on cnet, ICANN has given Verisign two weeks to clean up their whois database or lose their right to register domains.

It seems that the core issue is the responsiveness of registrars to public complaints of inaccurate information in the Internet domain registry. The official announcement from icann.org specifically addresses the need for registrars to fix entries in a timely fashion. Verisign has entries that have been reported as incorrect for over eighteen months.

In the article, one specific example is a domain registered to “Toto” located at Yellow Brick Road, Oz, Kansas. Although the integrity of the whois database maintained by registrars is critical to ensuring accountability on the Internet, it is common practice in the world of ARG (immersive gaming) to use ficititious registration data. This practice has come about to preserve the immersive environment and to further maintain the separation, or curtain, between players and PM’’s.

PuppetMasters (the guys running the game from behind the scenes) often use information from in-game characters to populate the contact and domain information database to preserve the illusion of the game. In some instances, the information might even provide valuable clues necessary for the players to discover new websites and information related to the game.

Knowing the identities of the PM’s can easily lead to the players discovery of information that could spoil the game. Granted, the PM’s should protect their content a bit from overly inquisitive players, but productions from smaller organizations or groups will have a real disadvantage once the curtain has been breached. At a minimum, knowing who is running the game certainly chips away at the illusion of reality for many of the players.

Since registars will be under the gun to fix inaccuracies, I can only imagine that they will keep domains with invalid contact information on a very short leash and such domains might disappear without any apparent or public notice. Players could take advantage of this to disrupt the game or force the PM’s to disclose information not intended for the audience. I wish I could feel comfortable that players would avoid those types of actions, but it would be naive to make that assumption.

So what is a PM to do? It could be made plain through the game that communication with the whois contacts is verboten. Alternatively, contact by other than the official registrar could simply be ignored. Regardless, without a clearcut set of guidelines for player/PM behavior, the potential for problems is real.

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