Anyone who has ever visited the Battle.net forums can tell you that it’s a site of constant flame wars, spamming and trolling. It’s like that dark alley everyone passes by even in broad daylight: not a place where you’d like to hang out. So, Blizzard has taken notice and intends for the new RealID system to carry over to the Battle.net forums. This means everyone will have to post with their real first and last names and should tone down the intensity of the discussions on those forums.
It’s hard to believe that Blizzard can be so very naive after a popular webseries (The Guild) started with the premise of a female MMORPG player being harrassed by a guildmember. It’s a believable setting precisely because this thing already happens in real life, without gamers knowing each other’s real names. Yet it appears that Blizzard was either unaware of the major privacy risk they’re introducing to forums users with this change, or they simply do not care.
There has already been a heavy backlash against this upcoming change, which will affect the forums of all RealID Blizzard games (Diablo 3, StarCraft 2 and World of WarCraft). It’s fortunate that it’s not a retroactive change, but Blizzard’s responses to the massive public outcry leave no doubt that this change will go through.
I’ll elaborate on why exactly this change is a really bad idea.
There’s a good reason as to why most gamers tend not to tell anyone their real name: there is a very real chance of real-life harrassment. Even without telling anyone your full name there is the slight possibility that some psycho will be determined enough to find out where you live and pay you a visit for some imagined hurt. Just take a look at the French Counter Strike player who spent half a year tracking another CS player down in order to stab him to death.
Okay, so that’s an extreme case, but more innocious and similarly unwelcome harrassment will be commonplace with the RealID implementation on the Battle.net forums. Think of random people spamming your Linkedin account with connection requests, or indeed some random guildie hitting you up in real-life without bothering to ask first. That’s all very easy to do with real names out there for the taking, especially if they’re fairly uncommon names.
It also irreversibly links your name to the game, which is something many gamers would not want. A potential employer might google hit straight onto your posts on the World of WarCraft forums and callously determine that you’re some online gaming addict. Worse, the names of parents will be linked to the accounts of their teen children, so their google hits might demonstrate some repugnant bouts of forum trolling. And there are many other viable scenarios in which you wouldn’t want to link your gaming forum account to your real name.
Think of yourself playing an intense Platinum league match against a skillful opponent in StarCraft 2. You’re about to press in with your slowly advancing siege tank line and then … you get a phone call. Some random guy you’ve never heard off tells you his nickname and starts insulting and threatening you. It was some guy you destroyed in the placement matches with a quick and cheesy marine rush.
Not exactly a comfortable prospect is it? Yet that’s exactly what can and will happen with this new Battle.net forum system if you’re so brave as to actually post on it. According to Rock Paper Shotgun, some poor Blizzzard employee already found that out first hand as he posted with his real name in order to prove that ‘the system works’. It took just a few hours for all sorts of private information, photos, addresses and phone numbers to appear all over the internet.
Minorities are also in for a world of hurt as they’re liable to be harrassed based on their names alone, but more importantly, female gamers are in for a nightmare if they post on Battle.net forums. Think of any female gamers you’ve played with in online environments and what happened when it was revealed that they were not male. The last instance I can recall was just a few days ago in Modern Warfare 2 when some British kid kept shouting about melons over in-game voice chat.
Now think of what they’re in for when people know their real name and can find them on social websites … and in real-life.
Blizzard does seem convinced that solely allowing gamers to post under their real name will force them to think about what they write and greatly reduce the trolling on their forums. When everything you say on their forums can be linked to you personally, then that can have some drastic real-life consequences as indicated above.
The problem is that most of the people who would be bothered by these consequences would simply stop posting alltogether, as many thousands of users have already indicated. Text is probably the least expressive means of communication, so a post with no ill intent might be construed as hurtful by some. And some people might use the real names demonstrated on the new Blizzard Forums as a means of tracking this person down in order to more personally let them know what they think of this ‘hurtful’ post. It may not happen often, but it’d happen enough and it’s sufficient reason for most gamers to shun that sort of forum.
Those remaining on the Blizzard forums would mostly be people who do not care that their real-life persona is attached to their forum posts. For example, a naive teenager who thinks himself untouchable won’t troll or post any less because his real name is attached to his posts. Yet people with ill-intend would flock to these forums as they open up new, very real, ways of harrassing people by tracking them down via their real names. Contrary to any naive notions to the contrary that you might have, there are plenty of people who delight in ruining other people’s days or even lives. This might be something innocuous like cheating in an online game, but some take this a step further and genuinely track people down in order to physically or mentally hurt them.
Blizzard does mention another reason for linking posts to real-life names and that is the additional social connection that it would bring to their forums. There is no real case to be made for this argument, because it rings false in every possible way. When making friends online there is absolutely no added value in them knowing your real name, which solely becomes important were you to actually meet up in real-life. It has no real bearing on your ‘relationship’ because the connection forged is in the game, not real-life. The crucial name here then is your in-game handle rather than your given, real, name.
Now Blizzard does refer to Blizzcon and how those World of WarCraft players connected oh-so-well with each other, but crucially they seem to have left out the part where they connected via their in-game handles, rather than their real names. At gaming events, including LAN Parties, a vast majority of attendees does go by their nickname rather than their real name. That’s because the social connection in that situation is forged through gaming, rather than any real-life bonds.
So in all, Blizzard’s arguments don’t really stack up and RealID on the Blizzard Forums seems mostly just a ReallyBadIdea.