Posted Thu, Jul 08, 2010 by Ethec
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Blizzard's planned implementation of RealID has raised quite a hot fuss on the official boards. The central point of contention: "Beginning in mid-July, players who post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID -- that is, the real-life first and last name associated with their Battle.net account."
The days of Internet anonymity may be quickly evaporating, but is the use of your real name a violation of privacy? Could having to own your comments possibly be a good thing? We move past the knee jerk reactions in today's Loading... RealID: What's In A Name?
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WoWRiot is making hay off of the fallout from Blizzard's RealID initiative, ostensibly posting the personal info of a WoW developer who chose to post his real name in response to RealID concerns. I view that as uncalled-for, especially since the information may or may not be real and, more importantly, may or may not be the correct individual, so I'm not going to denegrate Loading... by linking you (Google away, if you wish). Concerns over RealID and real names are definitely worth addressing, but I personally think the hate and consternation is overblown for a number of reasons.
First, believe it or not, despite the promise inherent in the name "RealID", real name doesn't go all the way toward establishing identity. Case in point, try to apply for anything without giving your date of birth and/or SSN. Even with my odd last name, for most of my life I lived some 30 miles away from another guy with the exact first, middle, and last name, even though I've never met him and we're only distantly related. (He's a park ranger, and I often thought about contacting him to pull a prince and the pauper - me being the pauper - when I needed a break from the glowing screen.)
One could argue that those crying loudest about the RealID switch are those most prone to hide behind their anonymity, making the sort of comments they'd never make if they were in the same room with their respective audience. I don't buy this entirely - a big part of the fun of MMORPGs is temporarily reinventing yourself. In moderation that's good innocent fun. At times, I think we all long to see who we are apart from who we've becom insofar as that's possible, and real names break down that almost sacred divide. But it's important to realize we're talking about forums here, not in-game personas, and forums presence should be separate from your play experience.
Not to mention that posting is a voluntary act typically done by a tiny minority of any game's playerbase, and that forum minority is typically out-of-balance with the gaming mainstream (even though their perspectives often taint the entire playerbase). Ever since the MMO maturity level took a serious nosedive around 2004, forums have become the nexus of unfounded discontent, flamebait, and general stupidity. Blizzard's initiative to make players own their comments could go a long way toward cleaning this up.
Putting your name to your words is something I've never been opposed to. We've said a lot of controversial things over the years in Loading..., and our real name has been plastered on every single Loading... we've written. I've gotten some email hate and forum rage, but never anything more serious than that. I suppose the potential is there, and I can certainly understand why devs and the women on our staff would want obscure their real names (stalkers are no joke), but on the whole, I think that if you're going to speak up, you shouldn't be afraid to put your name to it.
With regards to privacy concerns, I'm no lawyer, but if those opposed to this change have a legal leg to stand on, it's that posters making comments made prior to the RealID switch had a certain expectation of privacy. Even if real names aren't automatically associated with these comments, it might be fairly easy to cross-reference posters by character names, avatars, etc. Blizzard's out is that you don't have to associate your real name with your character, it's entirely your option.
Assuming Blizzard goes ahead with the RealID switch, and I think they will at this point, I think the real danger is that it will kill not only the noise but also the legitimate discussion that occurs on the forums. Thoughtful posters might simply avoid the forums on principle. My hope is that we can get back to the days when folks weren't afraid to make a name (a real name, that is) for themselves through intelligent debate and discussion on the forums.
What's your take on RealID? Should Blizzard move ahead with the switch? Should other games adopt their stance? Share your thoughts in the Loading... forum.
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