I hate my PlayStation Network ID so much.
I realize I have no one to blame for this but myself. When I got a PS3 back in late 2009, I could’ve chosen any online handle I wanted. I could’ve gone with something easy to pronounce, or clever—I could’ve used some riff on my name, or simply used my name and put a bunch of numbers after it.
But no. For reasons almost passing explanation, I chose to go with “idpl_mal.” Thanks to Sony’s inexplicable policy forbidding PSN users from ever changing their online IDs, it is a decision I have regretted—and been stuck with—ever since.
I guess I should explain why I decided to go with idpl_mal. It’s a music reference, and a purposefully obscure one. See, the modes of the major scale are Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian.… you know what, actually, I’ll spare you. Basically, it’s an acronym to demonstrate how cool and different and musical I am. It’s the worst.
In the five years since I created my PSN ID, I have come to loathe it. For starters, it’s impossible to say. I think I picked this handle at least in part because I didn’t want people to say mean things to me online, or to be able to otherwise identify me. I did not anticipate I would start playing online games with friendly allies—hello, Destiny—and that those games would require new acquaintances to quickly call out my name and ask for help/give me instructions. Good job, Kirk! You successfully picked a username that no one can pronounce.
It’s a weird enough name that I often have to explain it. People see a handle like idpl_mal and they wonder, “what does that mean?” Sometimes they ask. So, I have to go into a whole thing about modes of the major scale and I can hear their eyes glazing over (or worse, rolling). Every time this happens, I feel a sting of regret.
As I’ve already said, I understand that this is ultimately my fault. I’m the one who chose the name; I’m the one whose relative inexperience with online games led me to name myself after an unpronounceable music theory joke. All the same, it’s hard not to be mad at Sony, too.
It is a well-known, much-lamented fact that PSN users cannot ever (ever!) change their PSN IDs. Every single person using Sony’s online service is stuck with the name they chose when they first signed up. If they want to change, they’ll have to start a whole new account, which means losing whatever games and apps they’ve purchased over the years. The more Sony pushes us to buy games digitally, the more locked into our accounts we become. We are prisoners of progress.
(By way of comparison, it has been possible to change your Xbox Live Gamertag for ages—the first change is free, and subsequent changes each cost a small fee. Steam, meanwhile, has a fixed ID system, but you can change your top-level handle whenever you want. Similar to Sony, Nintendo does not currently allow users to change their Nintendo Network ID, but I don’t mind that as much, mostly because their service is much newer and I rarely play Wii U games online.)
In the fall of 2014, IGN got a wordy if unconvincing explanation for why PSN IDs continue to be locked. “We want to give you more control across your experience and your profile and your presence on the network,” said Sony America CEO Shawn Layden. “At the same time, as you’ll understand, we don’t want to make it so that you can go in, grief a bunch of people in Far Cry, change your avatar, change your username, go into CoD and grief everybody over there. We want to stop that.
“[We want to do name changing] in a way that’s transparent, but also don’t let people morph themselves, either. And yeah, it’s terrible that you have to make decisions on a service sometimes by optimizing around the bad actor. I hate that we have to do that. So we’re trying to balance that between… the 99 percent of users going to have a good experience, how can we help make that happen without giving one more tool to the bad actor to go in and ruin the experience for others?”
Mr. Layden is no doubt an intelligent man who cares a great deal about the well-being of PlayStation users, and it’s actually refreshing to hear a tech executive citing harassment concerns as a primary policy consideration. But: What the hell is he talking about? His explanation is so limp it barely holds up to a sidelong glance. Sony has left all of us languishing with unchangeable PSN IDs for years because they want to combat griefers? Are there really people who would go harass Far Cry players, then pay to change their PSN ID in order to go do it again in Call of Duty... but in disguise? Would Sony simply be unable to keep track of a user once they changed their username? I can’t get my head around this theoretical scenario.
The reasons for our fixed PSN IDs almost certainly go beyond Layden’s 2014 explanation. I don’t imagine that it’s as easy as flipping a switch, and that the only thing keeping Sony from doing so is their fear of an army of name-changing, morphing trolls. Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida recently Tweeted (in French!) that their engineers are still looking into a solution, but said he doesn’t know when, if ever, the feature might arrive. And so here we remain.
The reasons for the current state of affairs may remain murky, but one thing is clear: I don’t like my PSN ID. I really wish I could change it. I would happily pay up to $20—maybe more!—for the privilege of doing so. I’m certain I’m not alone in this. Every time I see someone with a name like Assz_Drilla1978 or 420_sickKiid, I picture a grown adult with a job and kids who, once upon a time, chose a stupid online handle and has been stuck with it ever since.
I feel your pain, Assz_Drilla1978. I’m right there with you, 420_sickKiid. I hate my shitty PSN name too, and I hate that there’s still nothing I can do about it.
To contact the author of this post, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.