Everyone is talking about Blizzard’s new Real ID system. Some people say it’s an insidious privacy-invading big brother system, but other people are claiming it’s just a run-of-the-mill sort of privacy-invading big brother system.

How the system works is that your real, actual name – the one on your credit cards, your social security card, and your Steve Butts Moustache Fan Club membership card – will be attached to your account name and will be visible to other players. If you post to the forums or add someone to your friends list, then they will see who you really are. Friends will also be able to see what you’re playing and even where you are in the game, so don’t bother telling your Starcraft-playing friends you’re spending the evening delivering baskets of chocolate-covered kittens to orphaned grandmothers if you’re just going to be leveling an alt in the Outlands, because your feeble duplicity will be laid bare by Real ID and your friends really hate it when you lie to them like that, jerk. You can also post “updates” to your status, so you can thrill your friends with reports of your taco-eating, sleep-getting, not-liking-your-boss escapades. Blizzard helpfully refers to this feature as a “corkboard” so you don’t confuse it with your “wall” in Facebook.

(I am always sensitive to the fact that some people don’t like it when my columns are overly wordy. To help with this, feel free to read this summary of Real ID instead of the previous paragraph.)

Non-blind people will notice that I use my real name on the forums here. I blog under my real, actual name. I use my real name on forums and when leaving comments on other blogs. I’m obviously not a person with a lot of privacy concerns, and even I can tell this is a bad idea.

I can understand some of Blizzard’s motivation for this. The internet is populated by rabid and unrepentant assholes who will wade into a reasonable discussion on Zerg vs. Protoss and begin an argument over whether or not Obama ordered NASA to create the Twilight movies as a smokescreen to cover up the fact that the Xbox red ring of death was caused by gays in the military. The thinking is that putting your real name on your forum posts might encourage you to be less of a douche. Also, Blizzard wishes they were Facebook. But as solutions to problems go, this ranks right up there with burning your house down because you’re sick of vacuuming. Psychotics aren’t the only people who want to remain anonymous on the internet. Other people do as well. For example, people who want to hide from all the psychotics.

People are objecting to this system because it will expose guys pretending to be females. It will put your name out there so that your employer can see just how many characters you’ve leveled to 80. Your abusive ex-boyfriend will be able to find you and invent new ways to harass you without violating the restraining order. Your Alliance-playing pastor will threaten you with damnation when he discovers you only roll Horde. Your daughter could be scarred for life when she sees that you actually missed her piano recital because you were raiding instead of because her playing is horrendous.


But let’s look at how this system will impact one of our most overlooked minority groups: Famous people. For this let us turn to the universal, infallible and completely scientific metric of fame: Twitter. I have about 900 followers. The lovely Felicia Day has (hang on, let me look it up because the number is always climbing…) 1,745,485 followers as of this writing. (Obvious: I am one of those 1.7 million followers.) So using math (which is what Einstein used to prove general relativity) we can conclude that Ms. Day is 1939.43 times more famous than I am. That’s a lot of being famous. (I also tried to figure out how many people have a picture of her set as their desktop wall paper vs. me, but Windows calculator has some sort of bug and gives me an error when dividing by the number of Shamus Wallpapers in the world. Stupid cheap Microsoft products.)

Anyway, my Let’s Play series on Lord of the Rings Online ran for six months. By the end, my character had accumulated a modest bit of fame, and I would get a few messages from fans whenever I logged in. It wasn’t overwhelming, just an occasional stream of chatter and the odd bit of in-game mail. But that was just one partially-famous character. I had a slate of alternate characters for playing when I wanted privacy. Under the Real ID system, a famous person wouldn’t get that opportunity. Their real name would be exposed, and well-intentioned fans would want to say “hi” as fans do. If I had a modest trickle of greetings, Felicia Day would have 1939.43 times as much. That much traffic would render the in-game messaging system useless. You couldn’t hold a conversation with friends in that avalanche of noise, and your character’s mailbox would always be crammed with random gifts and creepy declarations of adoration just like the kind that people are always not sending me because I’m an old man and everyone knows it.

This would render the entire social aspect of the game useless to famous people. The only way to keep your anonymity would be to never friend anyone, never post to the forums, and never join a guild. (Remember that it only takes one person to out you.)

Now, I don’t have anything against Real ID as it’s proposed. It reveals less personal information than MySpace and has less Farmville than Facebook. The problem is that it’s being rolled out on top of an existing system of anonymity. Blizzard isn’t establishing a system where you’re expected to be open, they’re taking a formally closed system and outing everybody.

What will happen when all of these warring idiots have their masks ripped off? I have no idea, but I wouldn’t put my money on “They will magically transform into nice people who would never use their knowledge of your real name in an inappropriate way.”

Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels, Shamus Plays, and Spoiler Warning. All this and he’s still 2000 times less famous than Felicia Day. WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT FROM HIM?!?

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