Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Pay For Your Trolling With Your Good Name

Blizzard announced yesterday that they would be using their RealID system on the official forums for their games, revealing the real names of posters therein. The outrage across the Blogosphere has been huge, but a few positive posts can be found as well. This is one one those. I find most of the arguments made against such a system to be flawed and will tell you why below the fold. There are three lines that these arguments fall into they either deal with in-game harassment, real-life harassment, or the security risk of giving away your real name art all.

There are enough real names to be had anyway

Chris “Syeric” Coke talks about how real names in combination with other information such as an address can be used for fraud and he probably is right – at least he has more experience with the topic than I do. The thing is that real names are already widely available anyway. Phone books, corporate websites, tournament result listings, news articles, what have you. No, you might not be able to find a specific person’s name online, but you will absolutely find a gazillion of names to use for your fraud scheme. The risk must be quite low or we would see way more reports on the topic. And to be honest, who would you rather steal from – a decently paid university professor (whose names you can easily get online, loads of them) or some random WoW kid? Yeah, I thought so.

Many things in real  life don’t give us an option to opt out of publishing our real names and there are many more opportunities where people list their names on purpose. The inherent risk must be very low and it is very likely that your name already is out there anyway. I know mine is. You don’t see me going around complaining about scientific journals putting my name on their websites, or Magic tournament organizers doing the same. Outrage about that would look quite silly.

In-game stalking likely won’t be possible

I consider it quite likely that Blizzard will replace the character name display with the real name display on the forums. Even if they do keep a character name in there, there will be nothing preventing you from choosing a level one alt somewhere. Unless Blizzard hands out a list of characters along with your real name, there will be nothing allowing other players to stalk you in-game at all through this feature. Spinks talks about about gender/race harassment or harassment from nasty ex-partners or something. Where exactly is this supposed to happen?

They can’t harass you in-game because knowing your name does not mean they are on your RealID list and they will neither be able to see your characters nor send you messages. That leaves the forums, but harassment on the official forums, especially with RealID in place, seems like a very stupid idea that’s doomed from the start. If your real name was displayed in-game to everyone, then yes, harassment would be a problem. But the logistics simply don’t work out for anyone wanting to harass you through the proposed system unless Blizzard is stupid enough to, say, list all your characters in your profile. Which they won’t be.

If you are hiding your gaming interests you have a problem

Edit: It seems as if I worded this heading poorly. I meant “problem” as in “Houston we have a problem.” rather than “What’s his problem?”. If being known as a gamer is problematic then that’s something we need to fix. There, maybe that’s a better wording.

RealID on the forums will make it possible for real-life contacts to find out that you are playing World of Warcraft, as has been pointed out by Hatch among others. The questions for me at that point are whether you should be able to hide your interests in the first place and why anyone should care. I’m not a fan of lying, especially not in order to get a job. If an employer is stupid enough to have a problem with her employees playing games in their free time then that is not someone I will work for. So yeah, if you do want to lie in order to work for a stupid employer then you shouldn’t be posting on the forums after this change. But be prepared to live your whole private life in fear, so to speak. Don’t ask a question about the game in Google groups (real name!) or put the next expansion on your Amazon wish list. Also make sure you don’t do anything else in public that might offend your employer – such as taking parts in tournaments or hosting a guild meeting. Seriously, living an honest life is much easier than living a lie. And if you do, then RealID won’t hurt you in that respect.

That leaves the real life stalking of “celebrities” or, to be more exact, of people that are either famous for what they write on the forums (such as the CMs Chris was talking about) or that use their forum account to post about the things that they are famous for (such as Day[9] posting about his show on the official Starcraft forums.) I can see that Blizzard employees would have a problem with that, but everyone else seems to be just fine. The real names of TotalBiscuit and Day[9] are openly available for example and don’t seem to cause any harm whatsoever. On the contrary,  Day[9] even got gifts for his birthday from viewers. TotalBiscuit is one of the most controversial people I know, yet he has no issue giving out his real name either. So just how famous do you need to be for this to become a problem?

Internet anonymity is a privilege you get nowhere else

The internet is an odd thing in that it allows us to be so very anonymous and this anonymity has led to many a bad corner of the internet. Real life doesn’t provide this anonymity  and instead usually makes people responsible for their actions. This lack of anonymity has led to actual civilization, with accountability preventing humans from solely focusing on their own interests. Holding people accountable for their actions is a cornerstone of a functioning society, yet we defend the internet against exactly this accountability with tooth and claw. Many people do things on the internet they would never ever do to someone in real life simply because they know they can get away with it. I’m all for reducing the possibilities for this, and that is exactly what Blizzard is doing.

  • “If an employer is stupid enough to have a problem with her employees playing games in their free time then that is not someone I will work for.”

    That’s nice, but in the real world a lot of people have employers who do have an issue with it. Many teachers, for example, work for employers where they would be carefully scrutinised if it were known that they play games with minors.

    Do you propose that they all just quit their jobs, just because your employer doesn’t mind?

  • Systems might be different in different countries, so my view here might not be as informed as I’d like it to be. That said, I know two teachers who openly play WoW and have absolutely no issues with that whatsoever nor have I ever heard of such issues. If they do exist (and I believe you if you say so) then clearly something needs to be done about the attitude of the employers. (Over here that would be the state in most cases.)

    In the short run this would clearly be a problem with RealID for the people you mention, I agree, but quite frankly it is not really RealID at fault in case of misguided employers.

    Do you have any links on the topic that I could use to read up on it? I’m quite interested in how such a bias could exist in the first place.

  • We all tell people our real names. We use them for business, to sign contracts, we use them for sports. Unless you are a Brazilian soccer player using a fancy pseudonym. But Authors use and used pen names for various reasons.

    And now back to the internet and games: You reveal information about you to everyone. It is easy to google names and make connections and all that.

    It is absolutely not necessary that people know too much about me that easily. This gives them opportunities to abuse. I am not a criminal, spy, whatever. People will have to be content with what I reveal about myself by my choice.

    I know people who had to switch servers and names in UO and WoW because someone spoiled who they are ingame or to people who know them. They were neither celebrities nor criminals. Don’t make it even easier for them to get stalked.

    Regarding one example, not even John Bain (The Cynical Brit) puts his email address on his blog. Nor his mobile phone. Heck, you can even decide if you want your name to be listed in the phone book.

    Why does Blizzard have so much problems to allow people an internet persona. GamerTag works, @playername for Cryptic games works, but no, Blizzard strangely enough wants a real ID without any privacy options.

    I also want to point out lots of people have to hide something without being criminals. We do not live in an enlightened world where everyone is a buddy. The internet is already a great source of information for recruiters and people digging for dirty details.

    More responsibility on the internet can easily be achieved. No anonymous commenting, for example. You already get my email with every comment I make, and guess what, it contains my real name. That was my choice. But I would not post with my email address shown to everyone in a WoW forum for sure.

  • Internet anonymity is a freedom. Some misuse it. Some use it to say what they could not otherwise. Some use it to hide when they cannot anywhere else or to talk when they cannot anywhere else. The misuse of a freedom isn’t a complete case for removing it.

  • @klepsacovic: freedom is a great thing, but it should never be a freedom to do unto others as you please. But maybe that’s a philosophical debate too big for this place.

    @longasc: No, TB doesn’t just hand his phone number to everyone but that’s not what we are talking about here, is it? He’s giving us his name and doesn’t seem to be stalked for it which is all my example meant to say.

    I’m mostly questioning what harm will come from this. There is no connection between the name on the forums and your characters, so noone will find out who you are unless you tell them. This feature, as it was announced, allows no ingame stalking whatsoever. It does allow people to link your forum posts to your real name (which should lead to better behaviour) and it does allow people to find out that you are playing wow (but not where, when, or how). And if you really, really want to hide something you still have the option of not using the forums. (Not a big loss in their current state, surely.)

  • I wish that gaming was as accepted as it is to watch TV. But it isn’t, unfortunately. Maybe it will be in 20 years. But I just don’t think we’re ready to take this step. I doubt it will help the forums to become that much better. 13 year old boys who want to troll aren’t that concerned about their privacy, so they can happily go on, possibly under new fake IDs if they want to. Grown-up people with careers and families will hesitate to participate in any discussion. Exactly what does Blizzard achieve with this?

  • @scrusi: I agree, which is why I am opposed to giving people any more information to use against me than I must. Freedom and security go hand in hand; if my security is reduced, so is my freedom. If I can no longer express my opinion on something because of real life retaliation (for a virtually stated opinion with only virtual consequences), that’s lost freedom, which I believe far outweighs any harm caused by a virtual troll.

  • @Larísa: That is a very good point. Personally I think that most of society is at the point where they don’t really care whether you are a closet gamer or not but I’ll admit that the corner of society that I can see is rather small. I don’t believe that there is any danger involved at all for most people which in return would mean that they don’t need to stop posting.

    @Klepsacovic: If we stick to the forums, then both the threat and the potential gain of the change seem rather minimal to me. (And most of what I’m trying to argue is that the threat is rather minimal for most people.)
    If we extend the argument to internet anonymity in general then I’m rather torn. There are corners of the net where all sorts of shady folks gather (with real life consequences) that can go about their business exactly because of the freedom of anonymity. On the other hand this exact same freedom allows oppressed minorities to express themselves. If the choice was whether to keep internet anonymity as a whole I really wouldn’t know how to answer that.
    scrusi´s last blog post ..Pay For Your Trolling With Your Good Name

  • This is a copy and paste from Tesh’s blog, where I quoted Stabs. I wrote the same stuff on many blogs so far, so let me quote it again here:

    I would like to quote Stabs:

    “The current advocacy of being open about your name by Blizzard staff is corporate think. The top management are enthused about it and trying to justify it on broader grounds than “we want extra money” and so it’s become a moral issue, an anti-troll issue. It really isn’t, it’s just a cash grab.”

    It is a lot like the Facebook “LIKE” button. You liked that? Great, you get your personalized ad.

    We become transparent personalities, the idea of privacy and why it is necessary really eludes Blizzard. Or as you said, they know about it and put their corporate interests above the interests of their players.

    There is no benefit for us players in RealID. We get nothing, no advantage.
    But we get all the mentioned drawbacks!

    All for the sake of Blizzard’s and their networked partners business interests. They want the totally transparent customer. To make more profit. They will probably tell us it is in our best interest as well. :>

  • Nice to see at least some reasonable responses to this. The complete freakout among people on this has been utterly epic, and largely completely baseless. I’ll add a few comments of my own:

    To Longasc, above: Privacy and anonymity are not the same thing. What makes you think that Blizzard doesn’t know enough to personalize your ad already, or share your data with whoever they want? Or that they can’t do pretty much anything you might think their evil minds want to do already? What can Blizzard possibly gain from financially by making your forum posts use your name? Seriously, stop for a minute and think about that… What are they going to do, sell their customer DB list, or sell access to their forums and go “Here, go scrape for names!”?

    On stalking/threatening: I’ve been a gamer my whole life. Long before the internet (although I was there for the very early stages of that). Guess what? I used my real name the entire time (even, believe it or not, on the early internet). Never got me fired (although people in my unit did get in trouble for spending all our time talking about EQ rather than working), never got me stalked, and despite much of my gaming requiring actual physical presence – slightly more revealing than knowing my name – never led to death, dismemberment, unemployment, or disaster.

    For a “community” that spends a lot of time going on about how great a “community” it is despite bashing from outsiders, a lot of people seem to think it can’t function without anonymity. That raises some interesting questions about the “community.”

  • @Buhallin: Glad to see that I’m not completely alone. I especially agree with your last paragraph. “Real life” communities are based on not being anonymous and work much better than online communities in most cases.