Archive for August, 2010

The Real Me

August 1st, 2010 3 comments

Sometime ago, Blizzard announced Real ID, a system where people could communicate with their friends in ways that were previously impossible. If you had permission (which is to say someone’s email address and the ability to get them to say yes) you could talk to them with Real ID regardless of faction, realm, or game. The first two only really matter for WoW, but they’re a pretty important part of why I like Real ID so much. Since its implementation, neither the fact that a good friend of mine plays Alliance and I play Horde nor that we play on different servers matters any more; I can talk to him all I like as long as one of his characters is on. In about two weeks from now, Starcraft II is releasing with Real ID functionality, and that’s where cross-game communication takes place. My buddies who are running for their lives from Banelings can tell me about it while I tell them about running for my life from the Lich King. Presumably, Diablo III will have this feature as well, and people will continue this trend by telling us about how they ran for their lives from demonic hordes. Though communication external to the game is certainly possible, communication within the game has the primary advantage of shared context: when I am talking to people with Real ID, I know that they are online gaming, and indeed, what game they are playing. Though presumably they are my friends already, this gives us (or reinforces) the common ground we share, and I think it can be said defines what Blizzard wanted to do with Real ID anyway: establish a community.

But community on the internet is a funny thing. Perhaps the most important of the components in my favorite Internet Formula is anonymity. People don’t want to be known online. It’s why we have screen names, avatars, user IDs. It’s why we don’t call each other Bob or Jill but Kagor and Ash’ra’ael. The importance of identity is diminished on the internet, where I can call myself anything I like, on any medium I choose: I can create email addresses, forum handles, avatar names. Who I am becomes less important than what I say.

As a result, people feel freer. Explicitly not safer since safety necessitates a diminished perception of threat, but people who use the internet feel no need to restrain themselves quite as much. They can say things that they’ve never told people, or wouldn’t say normally. They call people obscene things, and rant at length about secret loves. They have no need for pretense when everyone is acting by the same rules: when I say that my weekend was spent gearing up my paladin and priest for the changes coming in Cataclysm, you don’t have to stare at me. You know exactly what I mean.

When Blizzard announced, about a month ago, that they were going to enabled Real ID names for all of their forum posts, the response was overwhelming. Literally. That thread almost got to 50,000 posts, the vast majority of which decried the change. One of the most compelling I read plainly and simply stated the reasons that the poster (Faythe, of Sol Eternum on Icecrown) hated the idea.

I, the poster, am one or more of the following:

- a woman
- a minor
- a member of an ethnic minority
- a person of alternative sexuality
- a transgendered person
- a person with a unique/uncommon name
- a person who has been harassed/stalked
- a person in an information-sensitive profession
- a person who may be Google searched by co-workers/employers/potential employers
- a person who may be Google searched by mates/potential mates
- a person who is concerned about account security
- a person who is uninterested in online social networking
- a person who does not fit any of these categories but who is nonetheless concerned for him/herself or for the welfare of others

and I oppose RealID for one or more of these reasons:

- It is a threat to personal safety.
- It is a threat to personal security.
- It will not eliminate/significantly reduce trolling.
- It should be optional; choosing between risk and silence is not truly “optional”.
- Unified tags/handles provide the same effect with minimal risk.
- World of Warcraft is not Facebook.

If this decision persists, I will do one or more of the following:

- Refrain from posting on these forums.
- Seriously reconsider my subscription.
- Cancel my subscription. Have already attempted twice to cancel my account, but the page isn’t working. Will call and cancel.
- Prepare to cancel my subscription should RealID be made mandatory in-game.

Though there are many good sources of information and discussion on WoW apart from the game’s main forums, Blizzard has been the place for its own community moderators and game designers. It’s the place where Blizzard’s official policy is made public, and it has a lot of weight because of that. All of that weight means that when we get to nearly 50,000 posts about how this is a bad thing, we arrive at Blizzard’s reversal.

Rather than sticking with it, the policy was revoked. Posted about three weeks ago, Blizzard chose to listen to their supporters.

We’ve been constantly monitoring the feedback you’ve given us, as well as internally discussing your concerns about the use of real names on our forums. As a result of those discussions, we’ve decided at this time that real names will not be required for posting on official Blizzard forums.

Was it a smart move? Maybe. There’s certainly a couple of different arguments we could follow, about whether Blizzard should’ve stuck to their guns and gone through with it, because its their game and their servers and they’ll do the things they want to in their own way. There’s the other side of the coin that says that Facebook’s already gotten a lot of heat for privacy concerns and this, being the hot button topic of the web for the past few months (a long time on this here internet), needs to be addressed carefully to the consumer’s satisfaction.

I think the end result is a mixed bag. Blizzard has partnered with Facebook in regards to RealID, and though I’m loving the ability to talk to my WoW guildmates from SCII, I think the problem is that privacy and security are a big concern with both right now, and Blizzard has ominously used the words “for now” regarding a lot of the RealID development. The issues and stakes have been raised, and it’s up to the community that Blizzard has created to stand up for themselves. If something like this happens again, the people who are affected have to be vigilant, and cry out, 50,000 posts strong:


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