On Real and Fake

“I’d like to take some time to speak with all of you regarding our desire to make the Blizzard forums a better place for players to discuss our games. We’ve been constantly monitoring the feedback you’ve given us, as well as internally discussing your concerns about the use of real names on our forums. As a result of those discussions, we’ve decided at this time that real names will not be required for posting on official Blizzard forums.” And just like that, Mike Morhaime, CEO & Cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment pulled the plug on Real ID’s mandatory implementation and anonymity remains king throughout the land. Yes, yes, I know I am trivializing this announcement a bit for the sake of an introductory paragraph. As indicated in his forum post, this decision came after serious internal discussion and gathering of feedback from the extensive — and apparently quite vocal — Blizzard community. On one hand, it’s great to see a company so in tune with its community, but I have a number of gripes with the vocal minority on this one, some more soapbox-y than others.

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Real ID is a feature that would allow “players to add each other to their in-game friends list through a mutual agreement system that displays their real names alongside their Battle.net account names. According to a Blizzard employee post on the Battle.net forums [July 6th], that Real ID system will remain optional within games, but will be mandatory for both users and Blizzard employees when posting on the forums.” As reported by Gamasutra, “it is not clear how Blizzard plans to enforce the real name requirement” but at least on July 6, that was the path Blizzard chose to take. Sadly, the angry mob was not exactly leaping for joy upon reading this announcement.

I feel like part of the uproar over the initial decision to require Real ID was just the Internet being the Internet. I don’t want to complain about the people that complain because that would be an exercise in futility. But I feel obligated to mention this bullet point: A lot of people just have to be angry at something, even if they don’t know or fully understand the details. It’s a shame we couldn’t poll Blizzard’s finest to see if they understood what was at stake or if they could clearly quantify or articulate their grievances with this proposed policy. I’m not suggesting that every single person against Real ID didn’t know what they were angry at, but there is often a severe case of the blind leading the blind when it comes to Internet fervor.

For the most part, well-formed communities can police themselves. Moderators can step in and exercise executive power, but trolling is typically not appreciated by anyone. If you want to fix something, be part of the solution, not the problem. However, instead of inspiring change for the greater good, the majority is content to sit by and do nothing. It’s a shame people don’t stick to the golden rule any more. Engage an online community with a little respect and that same respect should be shown to you. I guess I live in a world of fantasy where something like that is actually possible. Blizzard, it would seem, does not.

And last time I checked, aren’t there privacy settings everywhere, for everything? Take a minute to see what information is public and accessible by Joe Browser and instead of complaining about lack of anonymity, why not take measures to ensure that truly private information stays private. Lock down your Twitter profile, secure your Facebook account. Don’t accept friend requests from anyone you don’t know. Don’t give your credit card and social security number to anyone that asks for it. These basic steps are the digital age’s equivalent of “Don’t take candy from strangers,” and “Look both ways before crossing the street.” This is Internet Behavior 101 stuff; it shouldn’t be that complicated, and Blizzard should be able to expect more out of its users.

Why is it that people automatically assume the worst case scenario with changes like this? Will every single person with a World of Warcraft account start stalking people in their guild? Will every single match of StarCraft 2 end in friending on Facebook? Of course not! There is potential to stop hiding behind anonymity and start forming genuine relationships. I’m not suggesting the Internet will be a better place once Real ID is implemented as it was initially intended, but I refuse to believe it will be the end of technological civilization as we know it. As Activision’s Social Media Manager, Dan Amrich, stated in his blog, “Real ID, for me, has the potential to validate online relationships and to remove some of the fear and misunderstanding that comes from unclear or guarded communication.”

Now I’m sure some of you are looking at me and saying, “Chris, or is it Sugar Free, or is it iam_spartacus? Why do you hide behind an alias?” I will admit that coming up with a catchy Twitter handle or Xbox LIVE Gamertag can be fun. Each one has a unique story that often ties back into who we are. But I’m not hiding behind anything. Just look at the author of this post: it’s not SugarFree, it’s Christopher Snider. I have enough faith in the people reading my content to not be creepy stalkers, but I also have faith in my own ability to protect the pieces of my identity that need to be guarded from everyone else. Maybe it’s a question of maturity. But if that’s the case and the consensus is to stay behind aliases then maybe all those things the uninformed say about us is true, maybe we haven’t matured enough yet. I hope that isn’t the case.

I hope all of these people aren’t on Twitter using their real names. I hope they don’t have LinkedIn profiles connecting them with coworkers, both past and present. This is where I’d make a joke about MySpace, but I don’t think anyone even knows what that is anymore. And of course, I hope these people aren’t on Facebook with hundreds of tagged photos linking them to family and friends that may not even know they’ve been linked in a photo. If someone knew your full name without Real ID’s help, all of this information would still be indexed on your preferred search engine. It’s the Internet, people. You can’t stop the signal.

Speaking of the Internet, this post is featured on Talking About Games.

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