A troll by any other name...

Keep it secret, keep it safe

Wednesday, July 7, 2010 | 02:30 AM | by

So Blizzard has been setting up their new Battle.net, the umbrella under which all current and future Blizzard games will operate and be played. All of your Blizzard games are tied to your Battle.net account.

A couple of weeks ago, Blizzard implemented a neat feature in the new Battle.net, the Real ID system.  The Real ID system is a friends list for your close friends and family whereby no matter what Blizzard game you're in (WoW, Starcraft 2, etc) your friends see you online (listed by your real name), and what game you're in. You can chat cross-game, cross-server and faction (in WoW), and once you add a friend, you can see them no matter what alt they're on or may make any time in the future.

It's a really handy and useful feature, though it took some getting used to. However, yesterday, Blizzard comes along and drops the bomb that the upcoming Starcraft 2 forums, as well as new WoW forums to be implemented before the next expansion, will use the same Real ID system. Meaning that from that point on, all forum posts will be made under your real first and last name.

The reason given, aside from Blizzard's goal to push gaming into a more social experience a la Facebook, was to combat the nuclear levels of trolling and flaming that the WoW forums are known for. If you've spent any time there, you know what I'm talking about. I've commented on it before. Blizzard's theory is that by removing a layer of anonymity, these trolls will be less likely to take their venom and vitriol to such extremes.

Now, let me start with the disclaimer that by and large I am unaffected by this change, and therefore the following opinions are those of an outsider looking in. Not only do I not use the WoW forums, but I don't employ anonymity to any great degree. My name is attached to this website, the comics and the newsposts, and I post under my name on forums. Any opinions or thoughts I voice here, insightful or erroneous as they may be, are attached to my name. I don't say anything online that I wouldn't say in person. So the idea of posting on a forum under my real name doesn't phase me in the slightest.

With that said, from a speculative and curiousity standpoint, I'm torn on what to think about this RealID forum system.

On the one hand, I love it. I think it's a riot (it's a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine... I get a kick out of things that make people rage). While deep down I have suspicions that, given the response this has received, Blizzard will rescind its decision, I wish so incredibly much that they follow through with it. I am absolutely dying to see what would happen. Like a bit of a social experiment, I'm interested to see if people leave the forums in a mass exodus. If it promotes a friendlier and more social forum environment. If it spawns stalkers to the degree that everyone is predicting.

I want it to happen, not because I necessarily think it's a good idea (though I'm open to the possibility that it may turn out to be), but more because I think it would be fantastic to see the results.

And I certainly don't mean to belittle anyone's concerns about their full name being revealed. It may not affect me, but I'm positive there are players with incredibly valid reasons to keep their real identity separate from their WoW identity. While some of the posts I've seen are clearly fueled by rage, ignorance and fearmongering (like the people who think they're the only ones on the planet with their name, or who think that knowing someone's full name immediately leads to having their IP address and social security number), I do believe that people have a right to determine, as much as they can control, who knows their real name online. I think that's a fair expectation.

I don't think people are going to be stalked to the degree they're suggesting, I don't think employers are going to be Googling names to see who has a WoW addiction on the level that they're suggesting. However there are legitimate concerns amongst the uproar. Female gamers, for instance, may face increased harrassment or over-the-top "white knighting" as a result of being forced to disclose their gender on the forums.

To be fair, I absolutely do believe that accountability is a step in the right direction for the internet, but this Real ID system takes it a step too far I think. It's needlessly upsetting a great deal of people to achieve something that could be done with a happy middle-ground.

The current WoW forums system has to go, that much is clear. Currently you can choose to post as any of the characters on your WoW account. So people make level one alts to post as, so they can say whatever they want, troll and flame however they want, all without risking their reputation or the reputation of their main characters, the ones they've actually invested time into and play.

If they've got the Battle.net account system in place, why not allow us to choose a single nickname associated with the Battle.net account. Any time you want to post on a Blizzard forum, this is the name that is going to show up. This is the name that you are known by in the Blizzard community, no matter which game, until you decide you've fucked up enough that you need to buy a new account to get a clean slate. And if you're really nasty, Blizzard removes forum permissions for that Bnet account.

Take it one step further, even. Have this Battle.net nickname appear attached to all your in-game WoW characters as well. Keep the Real ID for real friends and families, use this other ID name for everyone else.

It seems to me that would accomplish the same ultimate goal, which is essentially to stop giving people easily removeable, easily changeable masks from behind which to act like asshats, yet without using real names which is clearly a hot button for a lot of people (even if their fears may be blown a little out of proportion).

Because frankly, some people are going to troll no matter what, real indentity or not. Some of the more cowardly ones will be deterred by the idea of being held accountable for what they say, but you don't necessarily need real names to do that. You just need a system with a constant ID that functions like our names do in real life. Always with you.