Blizzard: Thou shalt be anonymous no longer

World of Warcraft and StarCraft II publisher to forcibly reveal members' full names on its message boards.

Forcing anonymous gamers to de-cloak (well, sort of) Blizzard says it'll soon require them to use their real names when they log on to the company's official message boards.

Why? Because of trolling, flame wars, cyberbullying, and all sorts of other nasty business, otherwise known as "ground rules" for those who treat online conversations like a oneupmanship game instead of, you know, dialogue.

That's a problem, says Blizzard, going so far as to admit that their forums have a tendency to "run wild" when it comes to cyber-unpleasantness.

The solution? Name thyself, anonymous gamer, or else.

Or else what? Or else you won't be using Blizzard's official forums once StarCraft II goes live, July 27. Anyone posting to the StarCraft II boards thereafter will have their Real ID displayed for all to see. Real ID, that is, meaning your actual identity. Unless your name really is Fappy McFapperson, for instance, you'll henceforth be known by mundane appellations, say Boring Smith or Plain-Vanilla Jones.

You'll still be able to display your in-game character name--Blizzard's not taking that away--it'll just be accompanied on board posts by your real one.

But will "removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue" really, as Blizzard argues, "contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven't been connected before"?

Anonymity disinhibits us. Sometimes that's a good thing, say opening up about things we might not otherwise, or when we're after some good ol' fashioned by-definition roleplaying. Other times, not so much (you don't need any examples, because yours are probably better than mine). And sometimes inhibition's a good thing, say not violently picking your nose while standing in line at McDonald's.

Blizzard's taken the latter position and decided that making people stand behind their real name will encourage them to behave better, the theory being that real names make us think twice before getting prickly with our prose.

What isn't clear though is whether this won't simply engender the creation of fictional "real names" during the Real ID process. As far as I know, it's not difficult to assume a pseudonym, which is partly why the IRS (among others, including most employers) asks about it on tax forms.

The other potential gotcha involves basic privacy questions. Not the sort of privacy issues where you want to be anonymous just to be anonymous. That's not a right any of us have. Rather, the right to protect ourselves from identity theft, spam, personal harassment, or from someone googling us, producing an address and phone number, then sending something by mail or showing up at our door intending who knows what.

That's a little paranoid, I know, and I'm not put out about Blizzard's decision, since I already use my own name on message boards. But I'm not sure they've thought it all the way through, and I'm not seeing anything in their public discourse or the Real ID FAQ that sufficiently addresses (as opposed to glossing over) the privacy question. Claiming Real ID is "similar to other social networking platforms" simply eludes the underlying question.

Just remember, if you're not comfortable with Real ID, you can always choose not to participate. In my experience, the Blizzard forums aren't where the most interesting conversations (about Blizzard stuff) are occurring anyway.

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Matt Peckham

PC World (US online)
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