World of Warcraft, World of Warcraft Cataclysm, Cataclysm

Blizzard has made an extremely controversial decision this past week to incorporate a new Real ID system into Battle.net 2.0. The system acts as a cross-game friends list, allowing you to add new friends by their Battle.net account name. In your friends list you will see a list of each player’s real name, and you’ll be able to view which game your friend is playing, under which character, and a variety of other information.

Real ID is entirely optional of course, if you don’t want to share your account name with others then you’ll have no issue. Of course, you won’t have access to the cross-game friends list, instead you’ll be limited to in-game friends list of specific characters. The kick in the butt though, is that all of Blizzard’s forums will require you to use Real ID. No post will go without a listing of the author’s real name.

Blizzard states that this decision was to eliminate the incessant trolling, flaming, and general turmoil of their forums. Others have argued it’s Blizzard’s attempt to create more of a social platform going into the future. The reasons why aren’t pertinent, it’s the consequences that are worth estimating.

Stalking, murder, or any of the horrible things that could be associated with a child giving out their personal information, the list of despicable acts that people believe could occur as a result of Real ID is astounding. These things are occurring with the anonymity we have currently, it’s definitely feasible to say that these acts might grow as a result of Real ID, right?

My first thought was to say yes, but ultimately I don’t really believe that. It’s not hard, despite what people like to think, to find out someone’s real name with only a gamer tag. The idea that anyone is truly anonymous on the internet is dangerously naive.

No, the ultimate consequence of this is actually one of Blizzard’s stated goals. People will have to own what they say on the internet, or at least on Battle.net. There are still those that will feel comfortable speaking their mind as they please, but I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of users will see their name associated with their comments and think twice about posting. Whether that’s a troll unwilling to spew his racist swill, a businessman afraid his associates at work might discover what he does in his spare time, or a woman who fears she might be judged by her sex rather than her statements.

I love my gamer tag, my call-sign, but I think Blizzard is taking a brave step with Real ID. Don’t get me wrong, they’re walking into a fistful of lawsuits, because horrible things will happen (Murphy’s Law) and everyone wants a scapegoat. Otherwise, I think Blizzard’s community will be stronger as a result.

This is coming from someone who freely associates their online identity with their real-life one though. So while I may be biased in a sense, I can also sit here and tell everyone, “You know what, it’s not so bad.”

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