The firestorm that erupted two weeks ago when Blizzard announced that it would be displaying posters' real names on its forums has since died down, in no small part due to the developer changing its mind on the matter. My own feelings on the issue were decidedly mixed. Yes, there were more than a few potential problems that could crop up from having your real name displayed on the WoW forums for all to see, but there was also a common refrain I hadn't expected:
"I don't want my employer/friends/significant other/family to know that I play WoW."
Really? No, really?
What was more surprising than the sentiment alone was just how often I saw it being said. Dozens if not hundreds of people didn't want their friends, family and coworkers finding out that they logged on to WoW every night to assume a virtual identity as a dwarf warrior or an orc shaman adventuring in Azeroth. They were ashamed of the very idea. As a lifelong gamer, that comes very close to breaking my heart.
Why should we ever be ashamed of our hobby? We're all gamers here, we love games of uncountable shapes and sizes. We're quick to defend this passion of ours against all comers, too. When a film critic says that games will never be art, we talk about the games that have affected us profoundly. When an Australian attorney-general stands in the way of a proper 18+ rating in his country, we point out that the average gamer is in his thirties.
And then when someone asks us to have our real names attached to our gaming habit of choice, we dive under the covers like a pubescent kid hiding a purloined Playboy.
Yes, it's true that games - and gamers - have a bit of an image problem in the media. If you haven't played a game since Pong, maybe the only exposure you have to the games of today is when you see a news story pop up on CNN about somebody getting shot over a videogame (also known as somebody getting shot when there's an Xbox 360 somewhere in the room). Maybe the only exposure you have to WoW is the South Park episode that skewered it and stories about your friends' kids who won't stop playing online.
Is this really how we want our hobby to be represented? Yes, there are horror stories about people who lost their lives to MMOGs, but then we have people like the Starbucks CIO, who became the youngest executive at a Fortune 500 company and attributes his success to leadership lessons he learned running a WoW guild. We have people who have found genuine soulmates and lifelong friends via online gaming - hell, that's how I got my job here in the first place.
Don't we want those to be the stories that represent this hobby we love to the outside world? That shouldn't even be a question - of course we do. But that can't happen until we're ready to be gamers in public. Unless our bosses see that the model employee who comes in to work on time every day is the same guy who leads a WoW raid three nights a week, how can we ever expect them to understand that these games are for responsible adults, too?