Wednesday, June 20, 2012

In Defense of Blizzard - RealID

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.


  1. 1) If you Google my real name, I am the first 10 results. If you Google John Smith's name, you will never ever find the same John that was an ass to you in-game.

    Ergo, not all Real IDs are created equal.

    2) Similarly, there is an inherent anonymity in even named crowds. Thus, the potential for harassment and actual accountability are inversely related as soon as you start talking in "massively multiplayer" terms.

    3) Everything on the internet is written in permanent ink. If I acted badly at a party back in 1999, the only people who would know about it would be the people present, assuming the behavior was egregious enough to be memorable 13 years later to begin with. If the same party happened today, it would be a part of my permanent record.

    The Real ID argument takes for granted that forgiveness and statute of limitations are also a part of the social human experience. It is an argument for the revival of Scarlet Letters.

    4) "Social rules keep us in line." This is fundamentally inaccurate. The threat of power is what keeps people in line.

    Were the popular kids in your high school the nicest ones? Did they temper their petty meanness out of fear that their peers would shun and reject them? Is everyone at your workplace pleasant to be around? You know every one of them by name, but what did that accomplish? Probably nothing.

    5) "The social stigma with acting like that will marginalize them, and cause them to reform or leave."

    Again, taking for granted that A) people won't find the trolling amusing, B) the trolling people aren't socially powerful, and C) that people can bring themselves to care.

    6) Is there any difference between the Real ID argument for social responsibility and the government simply recording every (public) thing you do? Why is one okay and the other not?


    How's that? :)

  2. 1. Very true. By having such a unique name, you have more to lose. As such, all of those John Smith's share the advantage that their anonymity is more secure. Which would then mean, if I were to know your real name, I would have every reason to trust you more because you have your reputation at stake. You know, like anyone who walks out into a grocery store and decides not to knock over entire aisles.

    2. To follow the grocery store metaphor, this is like saying the average customer is anonymous. He or she is anonymous as long as they do not cause a scene. Doesn't matter how much of a John Smith you are, people can just say "The John Smith who wore the honey ham as a hat and got kicked out of the store" and they will know. Unless I am misunderstanding your point, which I feel I might be.

    3. Though you are perfectly correct in saying that everything on the internet is permanent, and are correct on the forgiveness front, I think you are vastly underestimating the "forget" part. Blizzard does allow server transfers, so if you did something so bad you need to start over, you can. If you did something so bad that everyone in WoW knows who you are...well, what on EARTH did you do? Even so, the internet forgets pretty fast. When was the last time you thought about Rick Astley? Or about Richard Garriot going to space?

    4. The Internet gives those who run the game the one thing that real life does not, and that is the threat of power that you speak of. Like you said, permanent ink. Every mean thing they type or do can be recorded and played back as evidence against them. That kind of evidence holds up better for suspensions, bans and court cases than your case against a preppy kid shoving you into a locker.

    5. In a structured game like WoW, with a company that has to make money, socially powerful people should not be a factor. If the GM's do their job correctly then it won't matter if the offender is part of the best raiding guild in the world, a case of harassment is a case of harassment. Sure, some random message board may be subject to that sort of behavior, but not a company like Blizzard.

    6. Absolutely. Technically, what you do in public is already always being watched, only by other people. Other people who can call the police to report suspicious behavior. How is harassing a guildmate over his gear choices and getting suspended any different than getting a restraining order for yelling at your neighbor every morning because his fence is ugly? And I think you are overestimating the "Big Brother" thing here. Any entity in power would be in information overload. Many bans and warnings happen because players report them, not because a GM was randomly browsing through your logs.

    And thank you for having a go at this. You make some excellent points.

  3. The problem with your argument is a missing step between lack of anonymity and accountability that is simply assumed, not proven. From my point of view, it is as if you put up a note saying "trash has to be taken out on Monday evenings" and expecting it takes itself out. It's similar to laws in real life; it is not sufficient to make a law that makes an action illegal but it is necessary to make sure the law is enforced if you want people not to break it.

    The question is, who will enforce the accountability on the forums? Blizzard? The same Blizzard who had the information needed in the first place and didn't do anything? (I'm not saying doing nothing was a bad thing from them but if they wanted to do something about the trolls, they would have done it themselves.)

    Users? Joe the average user will most likely not care but there might be vigilantes who would monitor the forums for people breaking the rules and--- and report them to Blizzard, which takes us to the same place we were at the last paragraph. They're not going to send letters to trolls telling them how angry they are, or appear at their houses requesting they stop trolling the forums. It would help those if every user had an unique name (although the real names are usually not unique) but nicknames would serve as well as real ones - if not better due to the unique requirement.

    Trolls? Now that's a maybe. Trolls certainly never mind having a little fun at someone's expense so they're definitely motivated. Of course, trolls will only be able to harass a few people out of and I'm sure those people will be proud of their sacrifice to statistics. *cough*

    I'm not touching powers that be because chances are, they can get the information they want elsewhere.

    Of course, the mistake you made is very common, even the G.I.F.Theory is based on it but what about real life situations when people are not anonymous but are not accountable either? You can bet there will be "trolls", people who do not behave in appropriate ways. However, it is still a mistake and because of it, you didn't convince me.

  4. "It's similar to laws in real life; it is not sufficient to make a law that makes an action illegal but it is necessary to make sure the law is enforced if you want people not to break it."

    This is where the threat of power comes in. You seem to trivialize the power of Blizzard to completely remove people from its game and community. Sure, there may be lots of trolls on the message boards, but the vast majority of those on there are harmless. Spouting lots of nonsense, but harmless.

    It is very true that nicknames would serve a similar purpose, but not exactly the same. Players are far more likely to care less about destroying the reputation of a made-up name than their own.

    If I may be so bold, I feel like you are making the mistake of considering the RealID forum measure to be equal to simply banning people due to reports. With real names visible it will -prevent- many trolls from ever starting their careers. This is a passive preventative measure. Banning trolls when they act is an active measure that takes far more resources than stopping them from ever starting.

    I'm sorry to hear I wasn't able to convince you, but I appreciate the feedback.

  5. Sorry for late answer. My points are:
    - I don't think I underestimated Blizzard's power; however I do think they are having the power now and there is no reason to believe they would wield it in a different manner against realID users than against the nicknames. After all, Blizzard is already able to see the real names, see through sock puppets and also distinguish people with the same name.

    - I believe that the effect of anonymity on accountability is overestimated, even though I only have anecdotal evidence for it rather then data. On the other hand, I don't see any data suggesting otherwise either. Sure, it will help somewhat but only a little and while it might have been worth it if the only downside was the effort to implement the necessary changes on the forums, there are other disadvantages to it. In my opinion, the gains do not outweigh the disadvantages. I haven't seen any serious attempt to show there is a big advantage to be gained by removing anonymity.

    - Banning is actually a preventative measure too. Or at least might be - see broken window theory. (It's not universally accepted but there are experiments which supported it.) There's an extra argument for support of this on top of the broken window theory, the potential trolls will see their behaviour might yield a temp ban and will be discouraged even further.