If you were alive and conscious over the past two weeks, it would have been practically impossible for you to ignore the news that Blizzard, the creators of the most popular MMOG in the world, were planning to erect a wall of shame around its player-base, in the form of a new rule stipulating that your characters and forum accounts would be required to be tagged with your real, full name. Luckily for children, famous people and closet trannies everywhere, they decided to pull the plug on that plan at the last moment, but not before the news of the planned change had blown out the wellhead keeping the vast, bubbling pool of gamer hatred in check, creating one of the worst natural internet disasters in the history of Azeroth.
I don’t play MMOGs and I already use my real name for (almost) everything I do online, so, for me, this whole episode seemed a bit like a storm in a teacup. Then again, I’m not a Nine-to-Fiver with a vested interest in “fitting in” to a corporate culture that looks down on and despises those who use their lunch hour to craft a horn of forging. Nor am I so ultra-famous that my leisure hours would be at risk of continual interruption should the whereabouts of my level 80 Paladin become known (rest easy, citizens, I don’t have one). I’m also not a child, with very real parents who have very real concerns that their very precious baby may become the target of an internet predator.
So I understand that my laissez faire attitude toward my personal identity is a rare and precious gift granted to me by virtue of the fact that I am relatively unimportant to those with an axe to grind, or an itch to scratch. I’m also Editor-in-Chief of a videogame-related website and magazine, so far from being a burden, the association of my identity with the fact that I play games is actually an asset. I work on my gamerscore the way The Rock works on his pecs. I get that, in the RealID debate, this makes me a sideliner. I have nothing to lose, so it’s not my fight to fight. My opinion in this matter has the relevance of a tree falling in a forest in Siberia.
I understand the concerns, however. I get it. I understand the position of those who would support RealID, that, by tying people’s online actions to their real-world identity, one removes the veil of anonymity that seems to so often encourage random, hateful acts of spite and language better saved for the prison yard. I genuinely believe that the internet, in spite of being a great and wonderful tool for the advancement of knowledge is also one of the most despicable inventions of man.
I believe that it allows those who would generally, because they are friendless assholes, not have ready access to an audience for their twisted hatred to spew their toxic opinions in a global ocean for the consumption of millions. In the same way that the internet has made it possible for enthusiasts of rare, yet fascinating hobbies to form viable and supportive communities, it has also made it possible for ignorant dumbasses with backward attitudes to locate one another, incubate their thoughtless intolerance and interject it into the public discourse with the veracity of a German cockroach.
I believe that the internet allows for the education, refinement and collaboration of man more effectively than any communications instrument ever devised, and I, personally, have benefitted from its existence more than I can possibly measure. Yet I would give it away in a heartbeat if it would relegate the assholes who plague its every crevice back to the tick-ridden, backwoods, flyover, bypassed-by-the advance-of-civilization shitpits from which they emerged, birthed by their daddy’s sisters.
So am I disappointed that Blizzard’s plan to mandate compliance with RealID failed to come to be? Not really. As I’ve said, I don’t have a dog in that hunt, not really. I think it may have been a great first stab at taming the wilds of the public spaces of the internet, for sure, but it’s not the first stab I would have recommended and, frankly, I think it was a moronic move for Blizzard, a company that’s created an empire off the sweat and tears of a very active and vocal community of obsessives who crave the shadows of online anonymity the way fat girls crave cake.
Think about this: Who, really, is spending all of those hours in WoW? We all know relatively stable, well-adjusted “normal folk” who craft and grind on the weekends and raid a few nights a week. Ok, fine. Listen, my parents belonged to a bowling league when I was a kid. Is there a difference? I don’t think so. Both hobbies are kind of lame in their own ways, but give people pleasure and a sense of community and the sense that they’re contributing to a meaningful struggle of some kind. Bowlers pull together to strike and spare their way to a trophy and the envy of their neighbors. Guilders do it for the same reasons, only their neighbors are all over the world.
Most people I know who play WoW can look you in the eyes and talk about the experience. These people, by and large, don’t care that much about RealID. Maybe they’d prefer to not have their secret identity spoiled, but they would most likely just find another hobby if they couldn’t live with it.
The people who have the most to lose from a system like RealID are the people with a vested interest in maintaining the integrity of their virtual life. Those who have, for whatever reason, come to believe that that their virtual existence is sacred, that it serves to elevate them from the squalor of their daily existence and that by tying their virtual identity to their daily existence would be to sully it with the feelings of insecurity and personal shame that cloud their every step in the natural world. For these people, RealID is a threat to their very way of life and would spell ruin to the one thing that grants them a feeling of accomplishment and joy – a virtual world where they can be someone other than themselves. Someone better, more social, more accomplished, more loved.
I recognize I’m generalizing, and that there are a lot of people who think RealID was a bad idea who do not fit this image. I also know that there are a lot of Guilders who invest heavily in their online time who have relatively stable and happy lives outside of the game. But there are also many, many people who believe they have no lives worth experiencing outside of the game. Who believe that they would be alone without it, and that they have no value outside of it.
Should we pity these people? Perhaps. At the end of the day, I tend to believe that, in a world that tries so incredibly hard to make one feel pain, we should avoid throwing stones at those who are able to find joy and love, through whatever means. Whether we all deserve it or not, those who are able to find it deserve to be respected for the accomplishment.
I do think it represents a sad state of affairs should one feel the need to seek it out anonymously, in a make-believe world, and that doing so may seem to be their only option, but I don’t pity those in that situation. I pity those who have driven them there, the real-world versions of the repugnant internet assholes RealID was designed to eradicate. I reserve my pity for those loveless, senseless blights on the soul of mankind. My pity and my hate.
Russ Pitts is Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist.