Saturday, July 10, 2010

Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Not being a World of Warcraft player, I have not been following the Blizzard RealID controversy very closely, but the furore has been such that it has been impossible to ignore. I read that Blizzard have now backtracked on their stance, but not fully. Anonymity seems to be one of the founding principles of internet interaction, and while it is the root cause of much of the undesirable behaviour on the internet, I can certainly understand why in many cases it needs to stay that way.

I read this comment on Metafilter, linked from Penny Arcade, and I have to say I found it a bit shocking. The assertion that every female player will be harassed and many of them will fear physical confrontation if it is made easier to e-stalk them would seem like scaremongering overreaction if it weren't for the scores of follow-up responses pleading with people not to belittle the problem.

I know WoW has more players than the population of many small countries, and that with such a broad spectrum of humanity online you are bound to get a fair number of maladjusted miscreants, but it is a pretty sad indictment of online game players that harassment and abuse seem almost guaranteed.

As is visible on the right hand side of the blog, I currently use my full real name as my Gamertag on Xbox Live (and Games for Windows Live, as they use the same tag). I set it up at a time where I couldn't be bothered with all the hiding behind aliases that happens on the internet, and I haven't got around to changing it. Every time I play online my name is available to the people I play against, which has never really concerned me before. It no doubt helps that I don't play any MMOs - even if I were to really piss someone off, the transience of the games I play would mean it wouldn't be worth their while to really try and grief me, they'd probably never come across me again. I have had a few insulting messages typed at me in Dawn of War 2, with one person even feeling the need to send a swearword-filled rant to me on Live after a game, but it really didn't bother me. It would probably be different if I knew I was probably going to be sharing the game with that person most of the times I wanted to play.

Trying to bring bit of accountability to people's interactions in a game is certainly a worthwhile goal; unfortunately, Blizzard's attempt with the RealID system does not appear to be a workable way of achieving it.

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