Meta, Opinion, Socio-theological babble, WoW

My perspective on RealID

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.

Click on the preview thingy to see the full comic!

You know, the shaman bears a striking resemblance to Chayah…

Now, on the subject of the RealID-on-forums announcement.

Approaching RealID

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.)

Fixing RealID

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 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.



10 thoughts on “My perspective on RealID

  1. I’ve already mentioned this elsewhere, but I’m wondering if ‘cleaning up the forums’ is their only motive here. This feeds into my main concerns: that Blizzard thinks real names and lack of anonimity are “the way forward”. I don’t particularly care about the forums either way, but what if this is just the first step? Clearly this is all speculative, but they seem to be pushing a general concept of a social gaming network.

    ‘Cleaning up the forums’ is all well and good, I’m just worried they’re going to keep pushing stuff like this because they truly believe it’s the way forward to accomplish what they’re really intending to do with this, which is setting the first stones for a social gaming network. Meaning: how long before this isn’t just a forum thing? How long before they “expand the functionality”? Seems like it could get intrusive very quickly, and others have already pointed out that their current in-game implementation of realID not only has conceptual problems (friends of friends) but also security issues. I dread to think where this could lead us in the long run, because I’m a firm believer in the benefits of anonimity the internet currently offers, and the resulting opportunities for fluid identities.

    Frankly though, I just don’t see them going through with it at this rate. Way too much negative feedback. They probably expected some, but I don’t think they saw this enormous flood coming. Usually their controversial (game design) ideas prompt a lot of negative feedback, but the positive voices are quick to follow and at least provide some clear counterpoints. Here it seems like a 99 to 1 deal.

    Posted by Razz | July 7, 2010, 11:32 pm
    • I’ve not read anything positive about it yet. Anything at all. Even someone like myself, who’d barely notice the change, is dead against it.

      It’s really weird, isn’t it? I’ve seen a few “April Fools!” replies and had to think long and hard about whether there’s any way it could be a joke.

      Posted by Charles | July 7, 2010, 11:59 pm
  2. I ended up here following a mention on Righteous Orbs and I am so glad I did. You really hit the nail on the head about the current mixture of real and pseudonym identities that we have at the moment.

    When I first was introduced to the internet back in -95 I never used my real name for anything. Partially it was due to the system setup (all the university message systems back then identified you by your emailID that that they gave you – so I was mep95jop) and partially it was a great thrill to be able to use a name that wasn’t your normal, day-to-day, boring one.

    As someone else mentioned on their blog, I think for me personally what I really don’t like about the realID side of things is that it breaks the immersion in the fantasyworld. I don’t want to know that John Smith has come online, I’d much rather see Darielle the elf priest log in. It doesn’t make them a different person and I still know that they are John and what they do for a living and I’ll ask how their kids are doing – but we play this game together to get away from the boring day to day stuff.

    I don’t know if that makes a lot of sense to anyone but me though. 🙂

    Posted by Tufva | July 8, 2010, 8:20 pm
  3. I simply don’t see the *point* of using our real names in this whole thing. And I agree with Razz, I don’t really think the reason is to ‘clean up the forums’. Oh, that may play some part in their decision to go forward with this new change, but if it was the only reason, why not just let us choose a handle to be known by on the forums and tada. No more hiding behind level 1 alts.

    For me, it’s not that I don’t like the break in my immersion into the game world, or I’m a girl that’s been harassed (I haven’t, not once), but that is seems pointless and intrusive. Thankfully, I never post in the forums, but for those that do and have privacy concerns, it’s gonna suck.

    Posted by Endyme | July 8, 2010, 8:53 pm
  4. There seems to me to be no benefit to the Real ID system. The trolling benefit is ridiculous on every level except that of not needing to hire more moderators – instead of happening on the forum and taking up moderation time, trolling will instead flow smoothly into social networks and real life.

    Weigh this against a very serious risk that much of the community will be taking – I am female, plus I have such an unusual name that the first three pages of Google results for my name are about me, so I am keenly aware of exactly how risky it would be for me to post on the forums. And I am not in a unique position.

    Real ID would combine the baseline on-forum harassment associated with being “out” as female on the internet, with a way for the trolls to reach you in real life. All not based on what you post, but on the name you post with. Very few women would continue to post on the official WoW forums if this goes through; and incidentally, the official forums are the place you need to post to have your issues or grievances heard by the blues. This change will force all players to choose between having a voice and risking their personal safety, but the risk to women is so much greater in this case that I don’t think it’s unrealistic to predict that women as a group will lose the grand majority of their voice.

    PS. AFAIK, the current plan is still to have blues post using their real names as well. They will of course receive plenty of harassment; but I am really frightened for RL safety of the female blues.

    Posted by PD | July 9, 2010, 8:23 am
  5. If i have to give up my real name to the public to report a bug or get customer service on a forum – not going to happen.

    The in-game GM tickets are already horribly slow. Tons of fun being on hold for 20-30 min if you try to call them. Are they going to hire more people for customer service since they are cutting off forums to people who choose to opt out of using their real name on a forum?

    Posted by Thudoi | July 9, 2010, 4:15 pm
  6. And thank goodness, the nightmare is over … for now.

    As I posted in pewter’s comments, I do almost wonder if this was a brinksmanship battle between Activision and Blizzard. I’m not sure if that’s a reasonable thing to wonder, but it’d at least allow me to maintain some faith in the company’s decision making process.

    (Specifically it was Wryxian repeatedly dropping huge hints in the relevant threads by suggesting that people keep posting their opinions because they do matter and will be taken into account which made me wonder this.)

    Posted by Charles | July 9, 2010, 6:24 pm
    • Haha. I sort of saw this coming, but this is still amazing.

      Honestly, I’ve been following the game industry in general for a while, and I’ve seen more publisher-developer discussions than I can name. In many cases it turned out it was unjustified to put the blame firmly on either side, and I think it wouldn’t be right to just point the finger at Activision here. Of course we’ll probably never find out the truth, and I’m the first one to “criticise” (bash) Activision, but I think it’s fair to say Blizzard isn’t going to push a policy like this unless they agree with it. They’re simply too important to Activision for the latter to be completely in control (their revenue streams and stock confirms that).

      Although Bobby Kotick is still a wanker and is probably singlehandedly responsible for half the problems in the world :}

      Posted by Razz | July 9, 2010, 7:20 pm


  1. Pingback: cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit « Righteous Orbs - July 8, 2010

  2. Pingback: The RealID afterparty « Blueberry Totem - July 14, 2010

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