View From the Road

View From the Road: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

John Funk | 12 Jul 2010 21:00
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Some of the reactions to the RealID announcement were certainly little better than fearmongering - some people would have you believe that simply posting on the new forums will get you and everyone you love murdered - but certainly not all of it was. An excellent post on Metafilter outlined the potential problems with the change. Just because you're playing by the rules doesn't mean everybody else is.

Was there a danger involved? Absolutely, and people who value their privacy on the internet were right to be upset. I write, post, and blog under my real name, but not everybody is okay with doing the same thing - and I'm certainly not about to force them to do so, either. Women who don't want to be stalked, minorities who don't want to have to deal with hateful bigots - there are very real reasons to want to keep your identity a secret in the millions-strong WoW playerbase.

But I can't help but also feel that many of these problems are just exacerbated by the very anonymity that people are using to protect themselves. If Katie gets harassed by some creeper who keeps hopping onto different alt characters to /whisper her, what happens when the creeper learns that everybody - including all of Katie's friends - can see his main character and his real name? Is the little joy he gets out of bothering her worth spending the rest of his WoW life getting harassed in return? Probably not.

Unfortunately, as long as people are able to opt out - as they were with RealID - it'll always be skewed. As nice as it would be to force people to own what they say and take accountability for their words and actions, the anonymous will always be able to take an unfair advantage as long as the option exists. If Blizzard forced all of its customers to forever use their real names, it might even the playing field within its games - but then what about all of the people who've never bought a Blizzard game, and who could see the real names and the posts just the same? They get all of the potentially-sinister benefits without any of the consequences.

Unless you're forcing everyone into the sunlight - like, by something extreme such as government-mandated online IDs or what have you - then people were right to be wary. In a way, it's almost a shame that Blizzard changed its mind because it would have been such an interesting experiment ... but unless everyone is held personally accountable for their words actions, you can't force anyone to be the same.

John Funk used to write under an online handle, but it was a really obvious one.

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