On a lighter note before I start the inevitable tale of doom and woe, words I wrote have been inspiring to someone. Specifically in the sense of inspiring a comic. I’ll quote Acariel to explain:
I do a little comic for my guild recounting our (mis)adventures raiding. I took a little break though, and wanted to do a fun summer-y kind of one, but hadn’t written anything when I read your post on the summer festival. Three words in there and suddenly it all fell together. [...] So here it is, it features me and our GM, since whenever I need a crazy person or someone to do something embarrassing I usually pick myself to avoid getting smacked.
It gave me a good laugh and pretty much encapsulates the atmosphere of the summer festival for me, so check it out! And thanks very much for sharing, Acariel, and for letting me post it here :) Both the shaman and the bear are absolutely adorable.
You know, the shaman bears a striking resemblance to Chayah…
Now, on the subject of the RealID-on-forums announcement.
I’ve been following the RealID story with some interest but mostly detachment. Most of what I could say has been said already and better. I don’t use RealID friends presently but I wouldn’t rule out using it in the future – though I’m nervous of the “friends of friends” information which we can’t choose to hide and the general lack of any granularity in the system. I wouldn’t have a problem with posting on forums using my full real name, but that’s because of my specific circumstances: I’m a young middle-class white male; I don’t have any significant property, wealth or investments to worry about; I don’t have children to protect; I don’t have present or past concerns with employment or academic environment or problem relationships that could catch up with me. For many years, if you googled my name, I was pretty much the only result on google and you could find out an awful lot about me – and I wasn’t even on Facebook, MySpace or any of that stuff. Nowadays there are a lot more people out there who share names with me and I’m a bit harder to track down even if you know the city I live in (which is not a secret) or where I was born (which is also not a secret). Astute readers of this blog already know both.
Because I’m in this situation, I’ve been able to take a fairly open approach to my internet identity. When I started blogging I decided to use my first name because I was writing mostly for my peers at University. When I opened Planet of the Hats I continued using my first name for a number of reasons: I couldn’t be bothered to change my wordpress profile (yes, sad, I know); my full real name was already associated with pretty much all my internet aliases anyway; it prevented me from having to choose a pseudonym to blog under (I mean, which would I use? I used to use my main character’s name but that’s changed. My old nickname from IRC isn’t really “me” anymore. The alias I use on WoW forums was a throw-away decision based on a word I like.); and, perhaps more controversially, I figured it’d help me make sure I didn’t construct a false persona when I wrote.
The effect of blogging under a real name
On that last point, using my real name here on the blog has actually been challenging for me, because I’ve felt like I’ve been forced to “be real” with readers and myself every time I write. Here I’m not just Chayah the elemental shaman or Zamir the spreadsheet author, and I’m not just Charles the theology student either. I’m all of those and hopefully a bit more! This blog links my online and real identities in a way which is, actually, rather uncomfortable sometimes. But that level of openness is something I find helpful in each arena. At college, everyone knows of my interest in cybercommunities and online gaming – some of my friends and lecturers even read this blog. On Elitist Jerks, everyone can see past the terse theory posts to the person behind them, who is somewhat more hack than expert and who is not, in fact, bedecked in the ultimate best-in-slot heroic mode gear with amazing hardcore achievements to back it up. And every time I join a pick-up group on my server I have to conduct myself knowing that, with my character and guild names, anyone in the group could easily trace me back here and, if I was behaving like a jerk, expose me for everyone to see. Likewise I can’t live my “normal” life pretending that I’m not a WoW player, or in a way which is discontinuous with my behaviour online.
I find that challenging and invigorating and I also find it very helpful, especially to my ongoing studies. But that’s me – it’s a privilege (or a downside, if you like) of my particular matrix of circumstances and identity. I was talking to a very close friend the other day about this very subject, but not in relation to RealID, and it is a very fine line to walk. So long as I stay out of trouble this arrangement is fine, but the moment I do something genuinely controversial or experience any kind of serious problem in any of the linked arenas, it gets way more complicated. In fact, I can’t really share what we talked about because of the very nature of this blog and my connections to and from it – the openness I have here is a conditioned, controlled, moderated openness; what I say here falls within certain clearly determined boundaries. I do not have the freedom and relative safety afforded by anonymity. (Though that also means I don’t have to worry about what happens if people find out who I am, which is nice.) I loved the honesty of many of the posts Tamarind used to write about his former guild, but when they were discovered by said guild the fall-out led to him changing names, servers and even factions.
Anonymity and the way forward?
I could also retreat back into anonymity if I ever wanted to, but for me it’s unlikely to be necessary – at least in the near future. In that regard I’m “lucky”. RealID on the WoW forums wouldn’t really affect me. But it certainly would affect a lot of the people I care about, so why would I be in favour of it? I see what Blizzard is trying to do and I really respect it, but I don’t think the World of Warcraft community is ready for it. We’re in a weird in-between phase of the internet where real identities are mixing with aliases and pseudonyms, and Blizzard clearly think the way forward is to phase out the latter while enforcing the former. But we still have a heck of a lot to learn from communities in which anonymity and pseudonymity is allowed or even the norm, and we still stand an awful lot to lose if we force the former upon those communities.
(Two quick notes: Firstly, “pseudonymity” has a negative vibe which I do not intend. The internet has allowed people to explore their identities in very exciting ways, one of which relates to choosing appellations for themselves or others which I feel it’s inappropriate to call “false”, but they are still technically “pseudonyms”. Secondly, I realise that “ready for it” and “in-between phase” implies an inevitable progress towards real identities dominating internet interactions – but I would not like to suggest that such a process is either inevitable or desirable.)
To close, based on other posts that I’ve read, here’s my shopping list for fixing RealID:
- No more friends of friends please.
- Give us the ability to control what information we share and how our in-game identities are linked.
- Uncouple battle.net login data from RealID friends requests.
- Allow pseudonyms or “tags”/aliases for Battle.Net user identification. It doesn’t expose people to unwanted attention but would still enforce a measure of accountability on the official forums.
- Unfortunately even the name “RealID” suggests that other identities/identifiers are “false IDs”. But there are very significant arguments to contradict this assumption.
I was going to link to a whole bunch of related posts here, but there are so many that I’ll just suggest following links in my blogroll if you’re interested in what I’m reading. Not all the blogs I read are linked to from here but most are linked to from the blogs I link to, if you see what I mean.
Finally: I think there are dangers or disadvantages to my approach to identities on this blog, which is one of the reasons why I don’t (yet?) use my full real name. If anyone has an opinion on the subject I’d be most interested to hear it because it’s very unlikely I’ve thought of all the angles myself.