RealID: Unnecessary, Dangerous, and Greedy

Coming out of blogging retirement for this! When Blizzard first talked about what would become RealID, I thought it was a fantastic idea. I’ve been plying MMOs for over 10 years now, and have met a lot of people who ended up on one WoW server or another. A service that would let me talk to any of them seemed like something that would be very useful for me.

Then they officially announced RealID, and all of my enthusiasm went away. While I haven’t gone to any lengths to keep my real name a secret, I nonetheless don’t want to engage with my “internet friends” on that basis. They know me either as Uriel or Uriul, depending on when they met me, and that’s how I want them to think of me. I get that there are many people who don’t care about that distinction, and for whom RealID would be useful; I’m just not one of them.

And I could not figure out why Blizzard seemed to be making RealID limited in appeal intentionally. Why wouldn’t they want far more people to use it? All they would have to do would be allow you to choose an alias, rather than use your real name.

Now they plan to change their official forums so that after Cataclysm is released, any new posts will have not just your character name displayed, but also your real name – and once again, I don’t see why.

They say that it’s to reduce trolling by introducing accountability. I think that’s absurd, but let’s examine that justifcation.

Anonymity on the internet is a problem. People behave in ways they certainly never would in the ‘real world’. And the official WoW forums suffer this problem worse than most, because any time you want to be especially nasty you can use a level 1 alt to post on, and have a good chance of no one knowing what main character that alt is connected to. This is probably responsible for some of the worst behavior on the forums.

So there’s some hope that social pressure would make things better, if you were required to post under the same name on all characters. However, I go back to what I wondered about RealID in the first place – what’s wrong with an alias? If I have to attach a name to my WoW account and then always have that name displayed, no matter what character I’m posting with (or they could simply get rid of posting on specific characters entirely), that meets the social pressure angle. It’s arguably more effective with an alias, since you may be known under that name on multiple WoW sites already.

The only thing that would make accountability more effective if you are known by your real name is if there are consequences for your actions in real life. That is a bad thing. There are absolutely no legitimate real life consequences that can result from your peers knowing your name. Blizzard already knows your name, if there’s a case of harassment, threats of violence, etc. The only real life consequences that might result are the horror scenarios everyone is talking about – being stalked, identity theft, having your personal information (what Blizzard isn’t already sharing) posted for the internet to see. And of course there’s the possibility of something even more extreme.

Is it unlikely that any given person will face any of those problems? Definitely. It’s very unlikely. But with as many players as WoW has, it’s almost certain to happen more times than I care to think about. The posters on 4chan have essentially destroyed the lives of several people with nothing more than a first and last name; is Blizzard really so naive as to think it won’t happen again to their players? And I keep coming back to that question: Why not an alias?

I don’t think they are naive. I don’t think they are just making things up as they go along. I think they know exactly how dangerous this is, and how unpopular, and they don’t care, because they look at Facebook and they see that they’re sitting on a goldmine of personal information (for some corroboration of that, read this), and they’re setting the stage to useĀ all of it. Why just take our money, when they could also monetize our identities, our friends, our other online activities?

This is going too far, and while I haven’t yet cancelled my account I’ve certainly lost all regard for Blizzard as a moral company, and whether they continue down this road will determine whether I keep playing or not…

LATE EDIT: We won, I suppose. And we can go back to killing internet dragons.

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