Ok, so I don’t do a whole lot of serious op-ed stuff outside of the SnarkCast…
However, something happened today that got my attention. I am more excited about this change in World of Warcraft than I’ve been about any change in any video game ever. Considering that I’ve been a gamer for nearly 30 years, that is no mean statement.
The first and most significant change is that in the near future, anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID — that is, their real-life first and last name — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it. These changes will go into effect on all StarCraft II forums with the launch of the new community site prior to the July 27 release of the game, with the World of Warcraft site and forums following suit near the launch of Cataclysm. Certain classic forums, including the classic Battle.net forums, will remain unchanged.
You can read the rest of the statement here.
Blizzard is making a ballsy move, and one that has been LONG overdue in online discussion forums. You know as well as I do that Internet forums are a haven for trolls and other jacknuts who hide behind the anonymity that the Internet provides in order to act like 10-year-old asshats. It’s darn near impossible for most forums to enforce any kind of meaningful identity check because it’s easy to lie about who you are and not get caught. In theory, this is highly desirable because there are some fields of discussion where anonymity promotes freedom of expression.
World of Warcraft is a different beast. Free speech rights are not an issue. This is a close community of paying customers who interact with developers and other players in order to gain insight and information about the game they are paying for. Why do you need anonymity for that? You don’t. Blizzard, the only party in this situation with any meaningful power whatsoever, already knows who you are. They have the ability to link character names to account information, and all parties in the discussion are aware of this. Now they are choosing to remove the cloak of anonymity in order to foster intelligent and more mature discussion, and I say BRAVO!
To be sure, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth from those who want to continue to troll and act like jerks while hiding behind an anonymous facade. In fact, if you will notice some of the complaints in the thread mentioned above, you’ll see some familiar guild tags to anyone who has any familiarity with online griefing and trolling. (<Goons> anyone?)
To those folks, let me propose an idea which might make everyone happier. Leave the official forums alone. Don’t post there anymore. Start your own “Free for all” forums for World of Warcraft fans who want to engage in the kind of behavior that will be curbed by the lack of anonymity on the Blizzard forums.
This issue has been a pet peeve of mine for many years now. As some of you may know, I’ve run an EverQuest online community for 8 years now. While I allow users to select whatever name they like for posting on the forums, I verify contact information for every user who registers. If someone logs in and starts making my forums an un-fun place to visit, I want to know who to go after in order to make them stop. It’s not flawless, and I’ve had to play whack-a-mole with trolls, retards, and asshats on occasion, but for the most part users knowing that I know who they are cuts down on the jerk factor considerably.
Invariably, the issue that your garden-variety asshat brings up is “It’s a free country. I have the right to speak my mind”. Not on my forums, you don’t, and not on Blizzard’s either. Rather than waste Blizzard’s time in tracking down and smacking down every jerk who wants to use his Internet connection as some kind of cathartic release at the expense of their fellow players, Blizzard has re-introduced the concept of community accountability. If you want to be a jerk online then do what I did and start your own podcast/forum/blog. You don’t have the right to trample someone else’s online garden.