If anyone was wondering why I have been mostly absent this week, it was to come up with this article.
Real ID brings up a lot of emotions in WoW players, and most of them are varying shades of rage. It gave us a global friend system, but minus any sort of privacy. It used our real names, it didn't allow us to set our status to invisible (Only 'Busy'), and there was a glitch or two that allowed people to see the Real ID's of people who didn't even friend them. This pseudo-attempt at integrating social networking into WoW made a lot of people scream and quit. It's not hard to get the WoW forums to do that in the first place, but at this scale it was something to be noticed.
This is actually the post I've been working up to. Why defend this action by Blizzard? Partially because I wanted the challenge. And partially because there is a part of me that wants to believe there were good intentions with this project. It caused me to quit the game once, and from a company like Blizzard who I trusted? It was a slap in the face.
I mentioned in a comment in a previous article about my theories on Blizzard trying to create a network of games. Diablo 3, Starcraft 2 and WoW players can all communicate with each other despite playing radically different games. This network allows friends to keep talking, and keep in contact. Playing Diablo 3 and a buddy wants to get together a guild run of a Heroic? Now you can join in without giving them that much information. You don't need to tell them your phone number or address, just your name. For some of us this is difficult, as having unique names presents us with the problem of being found. For the John Smith's out there it is not so much of an issue. A particularly scary incident happened when a forum goer in support of this idea offered up his name, only to be called at his workplace not longer than a few hours later by another player. Luckily, the caller only wanted to offer a friendly warning, but it is a frightening prospect.
Gamers want to keep their virtual and real identities separate. I know my coworkers would consider me odd if I talked about my orc warrior's adventures, and vice-versa my WoW friends about work. So in order to defend Blizzard in this post I need to attack one of the most prized ideals of the internet: Anonymity.
Anonymity brings with it many things. Trolls can attack others beliefs without fear of reprisal, but it can also give sick or disabled homebound individuals the chance to have a social life without the preconceptions about their condition. It can house a breeding ground for predators or for well thought out discussion. But the one thing it will always do is create a mask for the user.
And this mask destroys the one thing that many of us rely on to protect us from others: Accountability.
Technology enthusiasts will find it no surprise that companies have come into the habit of looking you up on Facebook before bringing you in for an interview. What they see there is the public image you give to them, and many users wrongly believe that what happens on the internet stays on the internet. Why should our actions on the internet not be held against us? I can't go to the store in a mask and scream scream racial slurs at everyone until I'm blue in the face and arrested. Why should the internet become a haven for that kind of behavior? As much as many proud internet users would like to laud some of the successes of Anonymous, search around for a few minutes and you'll find they've done some messed up stuff. Probably not the same people doing both, of course, but by taking on that name you are supporting their actions.
I don't believe this is an issue of free speech or right to privacy. The second you step into a social environment, may it be in public or online, you should be held accountable for your actions. It may be a game, but it is still a public venue and because of this we should know who we are dealing with. Social rules keep us in line. They keep us from releasing some seriously ugly trolls we have hiding in our closets.
Furthermore, most of us post a good portion of our information on Facebook anyway. As I mentioned before, companies do look up your Facebook. If you didn't want that information out there, why create a Facebook? For those of you without a Facebook: Good for you. You understand how to not broadcast your information. You understand that you are accountable for the information you put out there. You are accountable for your actions. Why should that change because you are wearing a Dwarf mask today?
Is the system perfect? No. The concerns over internet predators and the terrible people who harass others are completely correct. However, the same systems they can exploit can be used against them. In-game harassment can more easily land a person in trouble. Doesn't matter if he hops on an alt, you know who he is and can avoid him. And so can everyone else. The social stigma with acting like that will marginalize them, and cause them to reform or leave. And with the threat of that punishment, players can build networks within the Blizzard family of games of people who just want to enjoy the game. Sure, Kraag the Orc Hunter is also known as Greg Allenson, but you'll be on even footing. Two people, friends even, just enjoying a game rather than finding themselves second-guessing who the other -really- is.
Well, just about everything I typed above runs contrary to my own opinions. It was a fun experiment, but I find the idea of losing my anonymity online to be appalling. Regardless, I need to add this disclaimer to this post and this post alone:
The above does not reflect my actual opinions, but for the purposes of this post, I will defend it against anyone who chooses to come to bat against the argument. Please note: I will delete any posts that choose to speak with anger or imply I am an idiot for holding these views. Even if I did hold these views, they are valid ones and I won't abide by personal attacks. If you choose to participate in this debate, thank you. If not, that's cool too. That concludes the "In Defense of Blizzard" series, and I hope to be starting a new one soon.