A while ago, Blizzard announced that their Battle.Net and World of Warcraft forums would include the real, full name of the user on every post. And the whole world exploded.
According to Blizzard, this is to promote community and friend-making. According to the forumites, this is an unforgivable act of stupidity. And not for the reasons you might think – usually when forum-employing gamers bitch about something, their reasons are foolish. But in this case the complainers have valid, justifiable concerns that Blizzard has not apparently taken into account.
Forget “invasion of privacy.” Those who squawk that are stupid and should be melted. Blizzard already has your name if you’re a forum user. No, the real problems, brought up by those in opposition to this foolish policy, are much more practical:
- Stranger Danger. While it’s not too difficult to determine someone’s identity provided you have a little information about them, it’s not trivial either. But once you have a full name, anyone with even modest computer skills can go to town, leading to identity theft, stalking, harassment, you name it. Once you have a name, getting an address is a piece of cake. There are already documented cases of stalking, harassment, and even murder based on one party puzzling out the identity of another on a forum or in a game. This makes it easier.
- WoWers Need Not Apply. Some companies are reticent to hire people they know play World of Warcraft. It may be discriminatory, but it’s true. Also, companies Google prospective employees. I know we do it at my company. And anyone would balk upon Googling “Cornelius J. Humpthumper” and finding the first six Google pages to be full of WoW forum posts.
- Woman in the Window. Women deal with enough shit in online games. I hate to say it but it’s true. They’re hit on, subjected to various “I’d do X 2 u if ur hot but if ur fat get off my server” remarks, asked if they have boyfriends, told they don’t know how to operate rocket launchers, and so much more. Expecting anyone to release their names in this day and age is presumptuous, but with the stalking concerns above, I think women have extra reason to dislike the policy.
All of these points have been brought up before, by better writers than me. What I have to contribute to the discussion is my own perspective.
The internet, and communication via it, has changed things. Back in the day people proudly signed their names to things in which they believed, and sending anonymous letters to the editor was a cowardly act. Well, that was back in the day. TOday, any of about 2.5 billion people can read what you have to say. And the ease and speed with which we communicate allows for near-conversational speed, meaning often people type without thinking.
Anonymity on the internet is not an explicit right, in that it’s not codified into law anywhere, but it’s been practice for so long that I think we can accept it as a given. There are lots of reasons to want to stay anonymous: you’re a private person, you have a funny name, you’re a kid, you’re a woman, you have a nickname you like, you just don’t want to broadcast who you are, you don’t want obnoxious things you say traced back to you, you want to buy some really sick porn, whatever. Lots of reasons.
Some people don’t care whether their names are public knowledge. This too is an exercise of the implied right to internet privacy: these individuals elect to not exercise that implied right. In some ways this is helpful, because “Steerpike” is always taken whenever I try to sign up for something (and when I find out who you are, asshole, I’m gonna Google your ass, get an address, hunt you down and fucking murder the dogshit out of you), but “Matt Sakey,” “Matthewsakey,” “MattS,” etc. often are not.
Finally, there’s the true renegades, the people who are gleeful in announcing who they are online. Derek Smart. Ashton Kutcher. Paris Hilton. These are all people with a product to sell, and that product is themselves.
Now, some militant anti-This Policy people have started up a website where they’re gathering personal information on Blizzard employees and posting that – along with Facebook pictures, info about friends and family, and so forth. This seems a little extreme, though it does demonstrate how easy it is to find out about someone when you know their name. And presumably the people who want to keep their names private have reason to do so, while people willing to make their names public have reason to do so as well.
My brother Marcus is a novelist. He’s published four successful books, all of which have been optioned as films, and he’s got a fifth coming soon. This is what he looks like:
That’s Marcus’s Mysterious Author Face that he uses for publicity photos, so don’t judge his thousand-yard stare too harshly.
This is Marcus’s website: www.marcussakey.com. On it you’ll learn that he lives in Chicago, that his wife’s name is G.G., that he enjoys single-malt scotch, knows how to pick a deadbolt lock, felt very sad the day David Foster Wallace died, and various other facts. Marcus has a product to sell, and that product is himself. He would have no problem revealing his name on the Blizzard forums – so long as he could include a link to buy his books.
Then there’s me, Matt Sakey. I’m less famous and successful than Marcus, but significantly better looking, more roguish, more charming, more devil-may-care, more likely to use words like “deleterious” and “ameliorate,” have more friends, better taste in clothing and music… actually none of that is true. Anyway, here’s what I look like:
I too have a website – this one. I have a personal/professional one as well, but it’s more boring. I too have a product to sell, and that product is myself. If no one knew who I was it’d be harder for me to get clients in the games industry, lecture opportunities at universities, writing jobs in textbooks, and any other work that might come my way. That’s part of the reason why, when I took over the site, I told everyone they were free to use their real names if they wanted to, to make it easier to get scouted. Some did, some didn’t. They exercised (or did not exercise) their implied right to anonymity.
Blizzard, with this requirement, is taking away that right; and so far their response to the firestorm has been “don’t use the forums if you don’t want to reveal your name.” Well, that’s a pretty good response. I mean, if I had a nickel for every time I exasperatedly said “well, if you don’t approve of the content in Game X, don’t play it,” I’d be a hojillionaire.
The difference is I’m trying to protect something that others are trying to harm, and Blizzard is harming something others are trying to protect. It’s not behaving in a new way; Blizzard is a famously secretive and authoritarian company that has long crushed any action it deems too exuberant in World of Warcraft and on Battle.Net. Offhand I’d say that they’re considering rescinding this policy based on public pressure, but in the end I’m guessing they won’t. If this leads to a forumite tracking someone down and stabbing them in the face because their victim messed up a raid – and it might – that’s when the company will think again.
The real question I have is why they’re doing it in the first place. People get into games, multiplayer and otherwise, to escape the individuals they are and become someone else. That’s another reason people might choose anonymity. A lot of times, people don’t want to think about who they are while they’re in “game mode.” And Blizzard is taking that away, for no valid reason I can see.
Email the author of this post at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yes, that last paragraph really is the gist of it for me. When I’m on a game company’s forums I want to be “pinion42” or “xtal” or whatever, because I’m escaping the real world at that point. OK, not all games are pure escapism, but a lot are, and certainly all of the ones that I play are.
I wholeheartedly agree with the overarching point of it all: I don’t want “nUbt00b3r69” to know that I’m Max. I want them to know that I’m “n00btuber70,” the guy one number higher that beat their ass with a rocket launcher.
I’ve been reading about this for a couple of days. I’ve come to the conclusion that Blizzard is in the grip of some sort of drug-induced madness to think this will make their forums “all rainbows and fluffy kittens.” If nothing else, it will give the trolls a real live target for harassment. Can’t wait for the first lawsuit.
And Steerpike, why does your brother look like Paul Michael Glaser and you… don’t? 😀
And Blizzard has backed off:
Awwww, what a happy grinning face you’ve got, Boss. For a depressive, you hide it well. Personally, I’d rather be *your* friend than that sober sibling. He looks kinda scary while you look quite approachable. All expressed opinions based on the veracity of photos – they *never* lie – right? 🙂
What was the topic again?
Queen of Tangentistan
Didja run out of Bobby Kotick photos? This article would have been a good place to show the world that the Sakey family not only produces more attractve people than the Kotick family, but that the Sakeys are the kind of people you want to have over to dinner, or lend your car to, whereas the Koticks are people you want to feed poisoned dinner to and run over with your car.
That didn’t take long to rescind!
Eh, RealID is a great idea really in-game. In forum though? No, not so much. This should be completely optional not forced.
Force people you get anger, make it an option and people seem to handle it a bit better.
Props to Blizz and Mike making the best decision here.
I had friends over for the weekend and we discussed this at length. Everyone agreed that RealID is a great way to manage cross-realm/server chat and friendships, provided it’s optional.
Props for making the best decision, definitely. But no props for “doing the right thing.” The right thing would have been to realize how stupid this idea was in the first place, but that’s contrary to Blizzard’s iron-grip nature.
Personally, I limit the props I give to Blizz and Mike. The snarky “…regarding our desire to make the Blizzard forums a better place for players to discuss our games…” crack at the beginning of their rescinsion was classic blame-the-victim bullshit, and Blizzard has a long, long, long history of silencing players for saying, doing, or implying anything they dislike.
Let’s not forget that this is the company that banned people for being openly gay not long ago – again, under the argument that it might lead to forum meanness. That’s a lot like instituting the Burqa because women dressed in miniskirts are asking to be victimized.
I have no great love for Blizzard. People like to think of them as the “good guys” of the Activision/Blizzard relationship, but don’t forget that it’s not a relationship: they’re the same company. Blizzard acts independently, for now, but it’s hardly a paragon of free speech and openness to community. It’s destroyed every attempt to loosen controls of Battle.Net, it’s put fierce controls on speech within its channels, and behavior like this recent (abandoned) real-name requirement tells me that Blizzard still doesn’t get it. Control matters much more to them than customer happiness, despite Mr. Morhaime’s claims to the contrary.
Certainly, they have a right to control their properties. I would never argue that. But I balk at the thought that many gamers think of Blizzard as some spearhead of Valveian freedom and democracy when the company has spent the last two decades jackbooting over individual liberties, whether or not it’s their right to do so.
Excellent observations as always but the really amazing thing is you look EXACTLY like I figured you would! Cheers, SP!
I’m glad this has been rescinded because it’s preposterous. I briefly spoke to Matt on Steam about the whole anonymity vs. exposure thing sometime ago in relation to Michael Atkinson and as much as I like the idea of people being held responsible for what they’re saying (I’d bet in a bid to reduce rampant cuntosity), in practice it can’t work, at least for any sustained period of time. The unhinged people in this world make it a bad idea, as is all too often the case. Ban hammering is the only way to go on a forum.
When I became enlisted as a contributor to Tap I wasn’t sure whether to go with a nick name, my full name or a semi-personal vague name. Obviously I went with the latter but it was certainly a factor I took very seriously, especially considering I’m not really in it to ‘sell’ myself.
Despite my careful decision to omit my surname, Lewis (my brother) gave it away in the opening sentence of his first article, so thanks for that brother.
I obviously opt out of the anonymity perks of the internet. I want people to know me. I also realize that anything I say online can come back to haunt me if I’m not careful, so I always think before writing. I save my immature stupidity for my friends (I’m sure they are grateful). For me the internet is a tool. For others it’s more of a passtime, and forcing everyone to use the internet a certain way defeats its purpose. I am a little surprised at this idea. I get the reasons behind it. Many of them are the same reasons that I don’t bother posting on most forums. I also wonder at the legality of the idea. Sure a company can ask you for any information they want for their services, but making it public seems to be pushing the boundaries of a person’s legal rights. Every company that I have ever given personal information to has had some kind of client confidentiality agreement regarding that information.
In any case people can still be held accountable for their words without giving their full names to everyone using the service. That’s why there are moderators who can monitor the activity, and take action when needed.
I think you’re all missing the point, which is this: Those are a couple of fine looking heads of hair.
Correct, Marquez. I’m afraid to read this column when I am at work. There’s just FAR too much sexy here to be SFW.
OMG, look at all those hairs!
Yes, that’s my real name. I’m one of those people born in the 20th century who does crazy things like sign comments with his real name. I’ve made a decision not to say anything online that I’m not prepared to stand behind. It’s this thing called “integrity.”
A few questions:
– Why would you want to work for a company that would judge you on the kind of entertainment you enjoy, assuming that it’s legal? Any company Fascist enough to do that doesn’t deserve the benefit of my time and talents.
– Why does Blizzard tolerate the harassment of women who reveal themselves to be women? Isn’t that the underlying issue?
– Why would anybody do anything in public (yes, online is in public, get used to it) that they would be ashamed of?
I like Blizzard’s idea. I think it would run the worst of the trolls right off the boards, which was the whole point.
Safety isn’t an issue, as you’ve conceded. Battle.Net is not a safe haven for confused might-be-gay teenagers seeking advice or women on the run from abusive husbands. People don’t NEED anonymity there. Or most places, for that matter.
I think there’s no question that a “real name” policy would do wonders for reducing the level of puerile behavior online. If things had started that way, perhaps we wouldn’t see the trolling that we see now. But the [em]requirement[/em]… that concerns me. While you have the integrity to sign your name to things you write, and the foresight to never say anything you’re unwilling to stand behind, others may prefer to stay anonymous; whether or not they’re trolls. We have people here on this site who prefer to be anonymous, but have never (at least here) engaged in any behavior remotely inappropriate.
For better or worse we’ve now had years of perceived anonymity online. It’s an illusion, of course, as we all know, but maintaining that illusion is important to some people.
I’ve often wondered whether companies like Blizzard and Microsoft – companies that maintain online services – should take the responsibility to police the actions of their community. In the end I have to conclude that it would be impractical, if not impossible. All that remains is the silly pipe dream that people will grow up. We know that’s not going to happen.
As to a company too fascist to hire based on entertainment consumed… I agree with you in principle, but in practice I fear your argument is too optimistic. Many people out there work for companies that have policies or ideologies with which they disagree. Sometimes they hate it, sometimes they’re able to weigh their disagreements against a larger good (I don’t love all of my company’s policies, for example). But realistically people need jobs, and they need every advantage to get ahead – which naturally means minimizing disadvantages. Is it wrong to judge a prospective employee based on a WoW habit? Probably. But it happens, and the desire for privacy is a result of that.
In a perfect world Blizzard’s policy wouldn’t be “necessary.” In our world, there’s a possibility that it would make the community a more pleasant place; but I’m not sure if the ends justify the means.
This site has been around since 2001. We’re not huge, and if we ever became huge I’m sure the situation would change, but the fact is, we have no trolls here. We treat each other with respect. I’ve never banned anyone, never had to. At worst I’ve had sharp words with people. As far as I know my predecessors never banned anyone either. I believe there’s something to be said for a self-selecting group, even one that uses nicknames.
I can guarantee that your dissenting opinion will garner nothing but respectful debate here. You’ll get no flames. And while our population doesn’t rival Battle.net’s, I can’t help but feel that there are ways to ensure gentility that don’t require the revelation of information some would prefer to keep private.
I agree in principle Ernest, and choice is a great thing, but if you need a job and you’re shit out of options then you’ll leave your principles at the door. Principles are a luxury some people just can’t afford.
I recommend reading this comment I came across a couple of weeks ago by a female WoW veteran. It addresses some of your points and the wider implications of shunning anonymity. It’s an illuminating perspective.
First, thank you for helping to bring Stalker out of the vaporware closet and thus giving us one of the most immersive experiences in gaming history.
Sadly, words like “integrity,” intellect, and respect will never apply to bulletin boards. To be sure, stripping posters of anonymity would abate much of the raw behavior, but at too great a cost. I want anonymity in games to preserve my game “persona,” even if that anonymity is an illusion.
That said, I rarely post on boards for the same reason I don’t visit Detroit or visit Sarah Palin’s website–these places hold Stygian horrors best forever left out of my experience. I’ve accepted this as fact and my life doesn’t feel more empty because I can’t post a question or comment on a board without hearing a host of racial slurs and misspelled homophobic accusations.
And given a choice, I’d naturally prefer to work for a gamer-friendly company than not. Speaking as an out-of-work teacher in the economic cesspool of Michigan, however, that choice does not currently exist, so I can empathize with the worry that prospective employers might use a WoW habit to remove my resume from the shortlist (though I don’t play WoW).
It’s unfortunate that women are so disrespected online and the treatment does little to bring more females to gaming. If indeed Blizzard wants to address such behavior with their recently-rescinded policy, then it is well-intentioned but misguided. I agree with you that it will not fix the underlying sophomoric attitude toward women. I don’t believe Blizzard “tolerates” misogyny any more than it tolerates racism or any other hate-speech, but the task of policing millions of gamers is an impossible one.
With a few exceptions, people are vile, stupid, and reactionary. I’m OK with that; it gives me a reason to enjoy online murder simulators like Bad Company and Team Fortress.