Gamefaqs is a very popular gaming website and forum that people use as a communal portal for gamers. On this website, there is a sub-forum for essentially every game out on the market today. Each of these sub-forums has its own community with its own culture and cyber-rituals. My informant frequently posts on and reads the sub-forums dedicated to fighting games such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and BlazBlue. While all of these sub-forums reference different games, they are very similar games and as such these sub-forums contain similar communities. Because so many people post on these forums, it can be hard to establish a unique identity for yourself even if you are a frequent visitor and poster. However, there are two ways a poster (someone who posts on the online forums) can distinguish themselves from the pact: their avatar (a picture next to their profile) and their signature (a blurb of text shown after everything they post).
Gamefaqs users in particular place a lot of value on the signature. Users will often use their signature to show to the community who they are. As such, the creation of and transformation of a user’s signature is highly ritualized in the Gamefaqs fighting game sub-community. In these communities, the most respected and revered users have a picture of their favorite or best character from the game they play the most in their signature. For example, if someone played a lot of Blanca (a playable character) in the game Street Fighter he would put a picture of Blanca in his signature. The picture is often accompanied by a line of text saying something along the lines of “Gamefaq’s official (insert character here).”
While this seems like a fairly simple and non-confrontational thing to do, my informant, a Gamefaqs user of many years, revealed to me that members of this community take these signatures very seriously. Once someone has a character in their signature, nobody else is allowed to use that character in their signature. My informant told me that “if someone tries to put a character that has already been taken in their signature, they will be ignored or harassed until they change their signature to something else.” He continued to say that, “sometimes, when a user is completely unwilling to change their signature a moderator of the site will ban them from the forums temporary or forcefully change it. This is something we take very seriously. Your signature is almost your entire identity on [Gamefaqs] so when someone challenges that of course the community is going to fight back.” However, if someone feels like they should be the true “owner” of a certain character’s signature, they may challenge the current “owner” to a best of three (sometimes best of five) match up to claim the title for themselves. Whoever wins gets to keep the signature.
Clearly identity is very important to the members of this community. Because it is one of the few ways to separate yourself, it makes sense that a user’s signature would be very important to him. The interesting thing here is how the entire community seems to respond when someone challenges the identity of a single user. This reveals that there is some form of a herd mentality in this community; if you mess with one member you mess with everyone. I believe this may be based on a fear of their system being challenged. If one person’s signature is taken freely, then anyones suddenly becomes up for grabs. In a community where anyone can join at any point by registering online, the old members can only secure their identity by helping each other keep the status quo.