4 min read

What's in a username?

What's in a username?
Thanks to ModDB poster Luaman for the excellent screenshot of the bedroom map. Although this might be Return... And yes, it did always look this beautiful.

The year is 2004 (ish), and I'm playing Blockland.

I remember booting it up the first time and just being amazed at the size of the room. Everything is massive. It's a bedroom like any other, a bit sparser, but my character is tiny, a little Lego man. There's so much space, not like a real house. I could an entire Lego mansion in here and not run out. I have to fly on tiny jetpacks built into my Lego man's legs to get anywhere high up. And if I want, I can just fly around like that — there's no limit. So that's what I do.

The first place I remember building is the dresser. It's massive, easily the tallest object in the room, not counting the lamp on top of the dresser,[1] so of course I've got to get up there. I start with something small, just a box. It's weird and a little clunky, I can't use my hands but instead I have to use the keyboard and the mouse and the numpad to drop these bricks into the game. It feels weird. But after some time I have a little plastic box, and it feels good. I've learned something about how to build in this game.

There is a name function. Every player on a Vanilla Blockland server, even a one-person locally-run one like mine, gets to pick a name. I'm struggling because I love Spider-Man, but I also love Lego, the whole reason I'm playing this game in the first place. I just can't decide which to go with. So of course I go the obvious route of mashing up the two: Spigo. I then decide to make my character look like a stormtrooper, because I also like Star Wars and stormtroopers are cool.[2] Not just a stormtrooper, but a green scout trooper — this week my favorite color is green.[3]

I remember the first stranger to join me in the game. It's another kid, I don't know who. I'm hunting and pecking, struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of this kid's typing. Eventually I get sloppy and just start slapping the keyboard, because there is just no way I can keep up otherwise. My spelling, which I am pretty good at when going slow, slips. The kid types back to me, my dad doesn't want me to play with someone who can't spell. So he doesn't. It hurts.

I decide to work on typing.

The idea of a server, of playing online, is mindboggling to me. I am homeschooled, with no homeschool group, and no suitable neighbor kids for friends. I play with my sister and my cousin, and that's it. The idea that I can get on this box and build Legos (possibly my favorite thing) with any strange kid on the Internet — it's just wow. How can I say no?

Soon I'm playing online as much as I can get away with, between homework and all else. It's a lot of playing. I build houses with people, we color and decorate them collaboratively. We build other things, little police stations or cars or whatever we feel like. Online I see huge complexes of buildings, things I wish I could have thought of, enormous sprawls.

It's not always other kids my age. Eventually I run into older kids, teenagers of some sort. It's confusing; I don't understand what they're talking about and it makes me uncomfortable. But that's another story...

At some point there is a fracture. There are three different versions of Blockland: The original version; a mod for the original called Return to Blockland, also called RtB; and another mod, TDM or TBM I think. ("That Blockland Mod"? It would make sense.)[4] After a while hardly anyone plays the original version; it's so much more limited than either of the others in so many ways. The others have cool character customizations and so many new bricks — there are even moving doors, if I recall. I can't imagine going back to the original, so limited by comparison. I end up playing mostly RtB.[5]

There is, eventually, a retail version. This costs money, which I do not have. It also involves paying strangers over the Internet, which is a thing we are very much not comfortable with. Nobody I know knows how to do this. I remember my parents selling something on eBay and struggling to get money back out of PayPal — then struggling again when someone claimed that the cookie jar they sent was broken on arrival.

At some point, I end up getting Half-Life 2. That means making a Steam account. Unlike Vanilla Blockland, Steam requires usernames to be unique. That's a problem — spigo, I think, is already taken. So, okay, I'll add some numbers on the end to make it unique. spigo900 it is. It works: The service accepts it.

It's such an odd arbitrary name and nobody knows how to say it. Any time I voice chat with anyone they've got to wonder. Is it like spigot without the t? Is it like spy-go? Is it spee-go?[6] So of course it's unused anywhere I go to use it. In that way, it's perfect: I never have to remember another name, unless I inflict that on myself by getting creative. In many places, I stick with what I know.

It works… enough.

  1. or the doorframe, probably, unless that was just a texture... who knows, it was 2004-ish. ↩︎

  2. probably this was later, in the time of Return to Blockland, rather than in Vanilla Blockland — but who knows ↩︎

  3. others included orange and blue; in a different context and on a different character I mixed all three together. ↩︎

  4. probably there are more. there is always more fragmentation. these are the ones i remember, the ones i played. ↩︎

  5. i remember visiting TBM servers at one point and finding them mostly empty — but this might have been later, when RtB also started to die out. ↩︎

  6. by the etymology and my recollections — i think it is spieh-go. but who's to say except doc brown? ↩︎