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How do celebrity gamers keep the burden of fame off their backs?

How do celebrity gamers keep the burden of fame off their backs
When we interviewed Playboy's Miss October 2012 Pamela Horton last month, more than a few readers were aghast that we would print her character names and realm and her BattleTag, even though she clearly stated during the interview that she's happy to hear from and play with fans. "Do you think it wise to give out this poor girl's toon name?" wondered commenter lifecrits. "It can be used to find every single one of her characters on her account, and if she thought the male community in video games was bad before, wait until people harass her in Azeroth. I foresee an expensive name, faction, or server change for her in the near future."

"I hope that the members of the WoW community respect the trust she has placed in the gamer fan base by NOT hounding her and harassing her," worried commenter Aranyszin. "She took a bit of a risk revealing her 'online' persona; I'm sure she gets approached by fans, but remember people -- be respectful. Don't hide behind your anonymity and be a jerk."

Meanwhile, the feedback from Horton behind the scenes was all good –- which got us to wondering how other well-known people who play WoW and other online games handle in-game fan interaction. We checked in with Horton, Game of Thrones' Kristian "Hodor" Nairn, Olympic gold medalist Aries Merritt, pro football punter Chris Kluwe, America's Top Model winner Adrianne Curry, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to find out how they protect and enjoy their video game time when fans are clamoring to connect with them in game.
How do celebrity gamers keep the burden of fame off their backs
"A gamer before I was ever a pretty girl"

Pamela Horton sounds genuinely pleased to have connected with a entirely new batch of fans after her June interview with WoW Insider. "After the article went live, I had quite a few new friend requests," she reports. "All of them took my specifications to heart (i.e., leaving a detailed message in the friend request to help discern themselves from the not-so-nice people)."

Horton regularly games with fans she's met within the game and via social media. She adds fans who send her BattleTag and friend requests to her friends list, and she enjoys streaming her gameplay and chatting over Skype. "Everyone has been absolutely positive and it has really made my gaming experience so much more fun," she says. "Each of them does something completely different or plays the game in a unique way that opens my eyes. All of the people that I have on my friends list right now are straight up cool. I like to hang out with them."

What about the awkwardness of playing with people you've never met before? For Horton, that doesn't seem to be an issue. "Recently, I did a heroic achievement run with a bunch of people who added me from when I posted my handle on Twitter," she says. "It was the most hilarious, stress-free fun I've ever had. Instead of getting yelled at for standing in fire, I'm standing in the fire with them making jokes about it. A completely fun and great environment for my gaming experience. I couldn't ask for anything more. I'm very low-maintenance."

Still, there have been what Horton calls "creepers," and she does maintain a block list. "I'd say 85% of the people I interact with are positive," she says. "The other 15% are skeptical, racist/sexist guys who feel they can treat me in disrespectful ways because of how they perceive my actions. But I don't dwell on that! I'm having an amazing time with my new friends!"

How do celebrity gamers keep the burden of fame off their backsThe price of fame

Escalating fame has finally changed gaming for MMO aficionado Kristian Nairn, Hodor in HBO's smash series Game of Thrones. With an impressively growing fame now rivaling his imposing physical stature, Nairn has moved on from actively playing WoW in Thrones-themed fan guild The Winds of Winter.

"I really didn't have any problems initially with people knowing who I am in game," he muses. "People have in large been super nice and respectful. I have to admit though, I am more protective of my RealID. I like to be anonymous sometimes so I have characters scattered over a few different servers, so it's nice to be able to escape. Things can get really hectic in real life via social media and other things, and sometimes I just really need my gaming to unwind , so I must keep it that way. I am so grateful that anyone is interested enough to talk to me at all, but I'm just a regular guy too, and sometimes I just don't wanna chat."

In fact, Nairn is currently gaming undercover in Guild Wars 2. "I have to say that I'm really enjoying it," he says. "It's completely different to WoW in a lot of ways, and I find the community there really helpful so far. I haven't had a trade chat stress ulcer from it yet, either."
How do celebrity gamers keep the burden of fame off their backs
Just a regular guy

Walking the middle-road approach to interacting with fans is a man known more for his extremes, Chris Kluwe of the Oakland Raiders. No stranger to the media spotlight and controversy, the outspoken Kluwe usually plays with his own group, but he welcomes fans as well and doesn't hide his in-game identity. "My experience with fans in games like WoW has been great," he says. "All of them have been really cool and mainly just wanted to say hi. I generally play with my friends and guildies, but I did some random PvP and arenas with fans before as well."

Although Kluwe hasn't played WoW since the Cataclysm era, his Twitter handle @ChrisWarcraft demonstrates his ongoing fondness for the game. "I'm sure my character is idling away in Orgrimmar in whatever limbo non-played characters go to," he says.
How do celebrity gamers keep the burden of fame off their backs
Aron Eisenberg (Nog from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) still PvPs in WoW regularly, playing on his own or with longstanding in-game friends who're long since used to the fact that their warlock buddy was a Ferengi. "When the article came out, I had a few tells here and there ... but it never really got crazy -- at all," he says of whispers from fans. "I was always like 'Hey, yeah, I am' and 'Oh, that's so cool,' and I'd smile, and then it really didn't have anywhere else to go necessarily. ... It's fun for me, and it's fun for my guildies, but they're not going to go out and go 'Hey, Star Trek Nog is in our guild!' They're not like that; they almost really couldn't care less. They're good people."

Interacting with fellow players in a natural way is part of what's changing today's celebrity paradigm, Aron says, noting the importance of remaining open and humble. "I'm just a regular guy," he says. "I have two kids, I do photography, I pay my mortgage -- I just happened to be on a TV show." Meeting a fan who comes away with the realization that their idol is a cool guy open to a quick chat and handshake is something, you get the impression, that Eisenberg finds deeply satisfying.
How do celebrity gamers keep the burden of fame off their backs
On either side of the publicity fence

Personal renown is beside the point for Olympic gold medalist and world record hurdler Aries Merritt . Merritt's training schedule sees him dipping in and out of WoW according to the track and field season. When he does play, the hyper-focused competitor stays tuned in to progression raiding.

"Hey sorry, I have been in Europe for the last month and a half," he replied to an email from WoW Insider. "I haven't be playing much WoW, as I have taken a break since my competitions are in play now. World championships in Moscow in August, so I'm preparing for that vigorously. But before I took my break I did finish the tier, killing Ra-den since my class is OP for that encounter. Hopefully when my season finishes, the next patch will be ready so I can slay Orgrimmar bosses."

Merritt's WoW time remains as goal-oriented as his track career, and he hangs out mostly with friends and guildmates in game. "I did have random whispers from people saying they saw my interview," he says. "It was pretty cool."

How do celebrity gamers keep the burden of fame off their backsMerritt may keep mostly to his own business, but some well-known players prefer a more high-profile approach. Rolling out the red carpet for fans is former America's Next Top Model Adrianne Curry. (Looking for guild? Now's your chance!) Curry has made the world of geek media her home, and gaming is an integral part of her lifestyle.

"My experience with fans in WoW has built the majority of my guild," she says. "I also game live on Twitch for 1337loungelive.com and have played with my guild. We have accepted applications from people watching."

Nothing to hide

The world of social media and the willingness of people to identify themselves publicly on the internet has evolved tremendously since WoW's debut in 2004. Reflecting on the evolution of in-game privacy, WoW Insider Managing Editor Adam Holisky remembers a time when WI staffers buried the identities of their characters. "In the past five years, the world has changed dramatically," he notes. "Sharing on Twitter, Facebook, etc. is commonplace. I evolved from trying to keep my identity a secret to embracing my identity across all mediums; it's much easier, cleaner, and, given that I have nothing to hide, a lot friendlier to everyone at no real detriment to myself."

Holisky acknowledges that the pressure to present a hardcore player image to readers isn't what it used to be. "While it's important for me to maintain an air of authority on WoW, it's also important to me philosophically to acknowledge that as an 'expert' gamer, I don't have all the answers and that my answer often come from heavy investment in the community," he explains. "What I do is nothing special, and I think lifting the veil on that is helpful and beneficial to everyone -- especially the gaming industry as a whole. If people go, "He's just another player," then I'm doing my job right, because what I do is no different than anyone else. I just write about it at the end of the day."

In this kind of atmosphere, a celebrity's choice to share his or her identity with adoring (and sometimes not-so-adoring) fans usually comes down to personal choice, whether they turn to gaming as a retreat from the pressures of fame or whether they're constantly seeking new people to play with. The fact is, fans almost always turn out to be engaged, enthusiastic people excited about sharing the game with someone they admire. As WI commenter MusedMoose noted in the comments of Horton's interview, "I came in here ready to point out to people what jerks they were being and found a complete lack of jerks. I'm kind of proud. {◕ ◡ ◕}."
"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to lisa@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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