When you're walking around in RuneScape, there are exactly three things that combine to make the first impression you make on fellow players, even before you've opened your virtual mouth. These are your name, your combat level, and the equipment that you decided to wear. This is an article about the first one.
I started playing RuneScape almost ten years ago. During this time, there were two major cultural milestones for the game's target audience of twelve-to-eighteen year olds. Dragonball Z, which gained more mainstream popularity in America and Europe than any anime series before it, and the Lord of the Rings movies, which were doing the same for the fantasy genre. The popularity of the series and the films was clearly visible in any friends list around that time. In my humble opinion, you can't call yourself a truly old school player unless at one point at least half the names on your friends list were names like "SSJ9_Gotenks_123" and "Legolas5581".
I myself decided to go a very different route for my first character name. Before playing even a second of the game, I had decided that my character was going to be a mage. I originally wanted to use the Latin for "black mage", since I was (and technically still am) a raging nerd. However, the Latin word for "black" has some rather unfortunate racist undertones, so the black mage became the dead mage. The rest, as they say, is history.
As the game of RuneScape grew, so did its user base and Dragonball Z and Lord of the Rings were no longer the only thing Runescape players watched. Usernames were growing more and more diverse. Anything from favourite video games to first names to animals could be used for inspiration, usually added with a few strategically placed numbers and underscores to differentiate from the dozen or so other users that had the same idea.
Choosing a RuneScape username used to be a big step. Once you chose it, you were stuck with it. You could be level 130, with at least 90 in all skills, a house that would make the Cretans jealous and a different party hat for every day of the week, but if your name was "Flying_Poo82", you'd not only be known as the kind of person that considers the idea of flying poo to be hilarious, but also as only the eighty-second person to consider flying poo the perfect name for your RuneScape character. If you're the kind of person that also uses a fansite forum or two, you'll generally wind up spreading the magic of flying poo to thousands of people worldwide.
Thankfully, on October 1st, 2009, Jagex decided to allow players to correct their youthful indiscretions. In their display name update, they gave players the ability to change their display names, the names that are visible to other users in the game, the high score list and the official forums. You'd still log in as Flying_Poo82, but other players wouldn't have to know about your appreciation for airborne excrement.
As it stands, Jagex currently has no rules on what a display name can be beyond anything that Jagex "deems offensive". Certain MMOs go a lot further than that, especially on servers that focus heavily on roleplaying. In general, players are only allowed to use display names that fit the race of your character. That means that servers like these will have fewer names like "Lord_Rinky" and more like "Ragnar".
Of course I'm not saying that Jagex should start enforcing strict rules like the ones I just described. However, I do think that players themselves should take a good long look at what they call themselves, especially now that they have the ability to rename themselves whatever they want. I'm not saying that any player with numbers or underscores in their names should be shunned, but I do think that toning things down a bit wouldn't be a bad idea. After all, your name is one third of the first impression you make on every player you meet, so why not make it a good one?