[04.09.2010 Update] Hey all. Just wanted to chime in real quick and note that Blizzard has caved in and reversed its "First Name Last Name" forum policy as of 9:47 a.m. (PST) today. That's Murphy's Law: 1. Blizzard: 0...
And, officially, the winner for, "dumbest comment related to this whole mess" goes to WoW.com's Lissanna. She writes: "Blizzard taught us how to come together as a community to slay internet dragons. Sometimes, Blizzard doesn't like what internet dragons we choose to slay."
Sigh. Carry on.
Ugh. I was all set to write this totally awesome column about how World of Warcraft's latest Real ID measures are The Lich King's gift to proper forum management, and it's just one more reflection of much of what I talk about in this weekly column--the idea that the walls are slowly lowering between our various online identities as we transition our lives into a tell-all kind of digital tale.
Of course, resident Maximum PC gaming pundit Nathan Grayson beat me to the punch. With respect to Mr. Grayson, however, I don't think that he's really covered enough ground in regards to Blizzard's announcement that any World of Warcraft players seeking to post on the company's forums will now be identified by their first and last names--the "Real ID" I speak of.
What I find most curious is that this situation blows open the various degrees of user permissibility in an open world of data. What does that mean? Simply put, there are varying levels of sharing that people are comfortable with in the digital age, and it's funny that so many are complaining about an unsheltered digital lifestyle that we're headed toward anyhow.
Consider that many of those complaining about Blizzard's Real ID service likely have no issue with a platform like Twitter or Foursquare. Users of either really have no problem putting bits of their life on display for a mass audience--information that, depending on its specificity, could be used to identify and/or harass a person in real life. Of course, you get a pseudonym, which can be a huge deterrent against those looking to learn more about you.
A little further down the line is good ol' Facebook, which increases the digital connection between real-world information and an online persona. In this case, you're you. Though you're still free to hide various elements of your life in an effort to stay under the radar, there are some people--your friends--that are going to get the full enchilada of what you're up to.
And then there are those godforsaken services like Blippr that, for some unfathomable reason, have lured a bunch of fools into sharing the very purchases they make throughout the course of their lives with anyone they want. Don't get me started on this one; suffice, it's a pretty extreme example of opening up one's life for digital archiving, analysis, and stalking. The level of detail sort of sounds like the World of Warcraft Armory, wouldn't you say?
The true shame of Blizzard's Real ID service is that it really is a super-helpful evolution that enhances the social aspect of--you guessed it--a massively multiplayer game that itself depends on social interaction to succeed. I love the fact that I can now use a Real ID to find and talk to my real-life friends, regardless of what server they're on, and develop even more connections to people-I-kind-of-know-but-not-really in one grand, relationship-building attempt life quest.
That said, I'm a dude. Given the relative maturity of World of Warcraft's player base, I do understand the fear that many have over the Real ID system. Were I a girl, as fellow Maximum PC cohort Nathan Edwards pointed out, I would never post on Blizzard's forums again; the harassment and crap just wouldn't be worth it because--as illustrated--it's far too easy to discover the various details about a person's life now that we're all connected on a spectrum of social sharing.
This is the future of gaming, don't get me wrong. The fact that I have a full social experience built into Steam, or can concatenate Xbox Live names and Facebook friends with the touch of a button... that's awesome. Simply awesome. It's a far cry from the days when I had to remember everyone's archaic combinations of words, random letters, and numbers just to find someone to play online Bomberman with.
Still, Blizzard really screwed the pooch by trying to force a social change--Real ID--under the guise of preventative maintenance--eliminating forum trolls. With so many legitimate concerns flying about, it baffles the mind why Blizzard wouldn't just want to split the difference and make Real ID an opt-in kind of a deal instead of forcing everyone to conform to lower expectations of privacy to enhance one's social awareness. I mean, how many digital friends can you really make after you've hit the "Cancel Account" button?
In order for the social dynamic of today's Web to expand, it has to come because those involved demand it, not because it's thrust upon them. When users dictate their level of involvement, awesome, connected environments emerge to strengthen our everyday bonds in new and unique ways. When companies insist on how it's going to be, however, it does nothing but hack everybody off.
Stick to defining digital rulesets and item databases, Blizzard; Let your players determine just how much of an interactive layer they want to build upon the core experience.
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. If you befriend him on World of Warcraft, you'll learn his real name.