Blizzard Does Not Understand The Internet
Posted by Ben Zeigler on July 6, 2010
Yesterday, Blizzard posted a notice explaining changes to their official forums. Basically, for 99% of users you are going to have to prominently display your legally given name on all forum posts you make. With no way to opt out. Now, people have theorized that this is Blizzard’s plan to drive everyone out of their official forums, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they mean well. However, this is a bad idea for several reasons. Lum over at Broken Toys gives a good summary, but I want to break out a few specific points:
- Using real names is completely unnecessary to get what they want. As I’ve discussed before, and illustrated across the entire internet, consequences-free internet chat has huge social issues. Without any sort of accountability or reputation, trolling will be omnipresent and eternal. But, there are many solutions to this problem that do NOT involve disclosing your private name. For instance, Metafilter and SomethingAwful charge a small fee to create new accounts, which discourages the creation of sock puppet/smurf accounts that are used for trolling. In the MMO space, you can do the same by forcing each player to use a player-settable “account name” for all their forum posting and characters. This forces accountability because players can connect your forum identity to your in-game identity but does not expose personal information.
- The interaction of this system and minors is confusing and full of legal pitfalls. There are strict laws against revealing certain personal information about minors online, so this system will either ban minors entirely or allow them to be completely anonymous. As minors are undoubtedly causing many of the social issues they wish to solve, a reputation metric that does not expose personal information would be far superior.
- Either this system will be easily spoofable, or will be incredibly complicated. This is because the idea of “real name” is a contentious one, and in fact several of my close friends go by names other than their legal name in personal correspondence. If they’re forced to use their legal name that would make them extremely uncomfortable, and it gets very tricky when it comes to gender and family identity issues. If players are not forced to use their legal name, I don’t see what is stopping the trolls from picking obviously fake names while the honest players get stuck revealing private information.
- This will have a chilling effect on the participation of females and members of non-american origin. Many comments I’ve read from female players of World of Warcraft are extremely negative towards this idea, as they are already extremely concerned with harassment. Perceived gender is a huge deal in the MMO space, and these female voices will simply stop contributing. Similarly, if a player was forced to use an obviously-Muslim name in forum correspondence one can see how that might discourage them from contributing at all.
- This can have very bad consequences for players with rare or semi-rare names. John Smith is totally safe (although it will be very confusing when there are 3 John Smiths in the same thread) but if your name is more unique there are two distinct possibilities: Firstly, say that you do post in a WoW thread and say something relatively innocuous but upsetting to another player. That player could then use this information to contact your employer or spouse and report that you have been playing games, which in certain areas can significantly affect your reputation. Even worse, if someone that shares a name with you has been posting actively abusive posts, their posts could be erroneously assigned to your real-life identity and lead to stalking or worse.
- 4chan /b/: Imagine the possibilities.
Real world, legal name is not the right solution to this problem. If I had to post on a gaming forum as “Ben Zeigler” I simply wouldn’t post. It’s not that it’s very difficult to google the connection between my common internet handle and my legal name, it’s just that in the context of online forums, JZig is my actual identity. It’s a real identity because it is shared across many sites and has a shared reputation. It turns out when it comes to identity, the internet can do a better job of it than our parents and governments and Blizzard is going to alienate a huge number of individuals from their community and as a consequence their game.