Blizzard has created quite a frenzy with its announcement of its Real ID plan. Given that the feds are working on a Real ID system for “national security”, I thought it was odd that Blizzard would chose this term. Then again, maybe they are going for that Big Brother thing.
While the social aspects of this plan (such as cross game chat) seem fine and useful, many people are concerned with one critical aspect-the Real part of the ID. To be specific, this system makes players’ real names available. One of the main concerns is that when players post on forums, their real names will be visible.
The main argument for this has some merit. The idea is that people will be less inclined to troll, flame and engage in other hateful behavior in the forums. I suspect that some people will be less inclined to behave badly under such conditions.
However, having dealt with actual people, I know that this will generally not be much of a deterrence. After all, people are jackasses in person when you can actually see them. As such, I doubt that a posted real name will have a significant impact. Whether revealing real names deters bad behavior is, of course, an empirical matter and can be tested.
One of the main concerns about linking real names to posts is that it will allow people to find and harass other players in real life. While most WoW players are nice enough, there are many people who spend a great deal of time and effort annoying other players and spewing hateful comments. While most of these people would probably not be inclined to stalk people in the real world, I have no doubt that some of them would be thrilled to be able to escalate from being dicks in WoW to harassing people in the larger realm of the internet.
People who say that this will not be a problem simply do not know what these people are like. This is, of course, an empirical matter-if Blizzard implements this, then we can see the results (probably on the news at some point).
Not surprisingly, there is considerable concern on the part of female WoW players. While many WoW players are normal, reasonable well-adjusted males, there is a nasty undercurrent of misogyny and a creepy undercurrent of obsession with women present in most of the chat channels. While some of this is just adolescents spouting off, it is disconcerting to see people typing out things like “i want rape sisters of alli player” or ” killz men rape women and kids” or other, even more horrible, things. It is also rather icky to see what lonely or creepy folks type out in the channels. Finally, male players seem to often be obsessed with finding out which players are actually women. Real ID would give them the perfect chance to find out and then engage in all sorts of annoying and even dangerous behavior.
Naturally, people who do not want their names to appear in posts can simply not post. However, this seems to be a needless dilemma and Blizzard could simply let each player select a fixed alias for her account. That way there is a persistent identity but the person can chose whether this handle is her real name or not.
In my own case, I have no problem with posting under my real name. After all, I blog under my real name, publish under my real name, and I do not worry that people know I play WoW. I have had plenty of experience with hateful emails and dealing with crazy people in person. I know I can handle such situations, though I prefer not having to do so.
However, this should be a matter of choice. Some people have excellent reasons for not wanting their names known in this manner and Blizzard should respect those reasons.