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Real Names Continued

July 6, 2010

Now that I have my personal “the sky is falling” reaction out of the way, I’ve got some more level thoughts on Blizzard’s decision. The good news is that it only applies to the official forums. And it isn’t retroactive. My current and past posts are safe. I actually post on them from time to time, but it won’t be a huge loss if I stop relying on them. There are stronger, more welcoming communities on unofficial forums.

I am sort of baffled by Blizzard’s decision. Have they been playing the game and getting paid to do it for too long? I don’t think they remember what it’s like for gaming to be a separate part of your life. I’m looking at WoW.com bloggers too. You might see us as QQ’ing, but I think you’re out of touch with the rest of the community. WoW isn’t on our resume. In fact, if it were, we’d probably never show it to anyone and we’d likely never get hired. It isn’t applicable to everyone’s career. In fact, it might very well be looked down on. You’ll find that many place keeping different aspects of their lives separate very high on their list of priorities.

Going back to Blizzard’s decision, I tried to think about their thoughts behind the new change. I mean, they say they talked about it for a long time and think it’s a great idea.

Blizzard’s key goals seem to be:

  • Kick the trolls in the teeth
  • Make the environment more respectful
  • Encourage highly social, connected relationships in game and out
  • Encourage lasting friendships regardless of distance

These are lofty, well-intentioned goals. But this remedy is misguided.

Anonymity is empowering. It is a good thing. Social networking sites are driving the world mad right now and people are not fully thinking things through. Not everything needs to be connected, shared, and made public. This global derivative that the world will be a better place if we just go along with it is overlooking some very important things.

Anonymity IS a good thing and, above all else, World of Warcraft is a game. A game that is a separate part of life for many people. The anonymity is part of the appeal to MMOs. The ability to be someone else is the strongest and oldest appeal to RPGs.

It certainly can be used for negative purposes though. That seems to be the main focus of this change.

Trolls are obnoxious and have long been a bane of the gaming world.

But why is it?

Because real people are playing WoW. Not just nice, friendly, helpful people. There are young people, old people. Some of them are tired, some of them are just pissed off. You can be the nicest person in real life and finally let your mean streak show in a game. Why? Because our society doesn’t like mean people. But in WoW, you can get away with it. It might not be healthy. It certainly isn’t helping the community. But the fact is, people need to let off steam. Sometimes they need to be a villian, to be a badass, or to just be a greedy, whiny, insulting jerk. And WoW is the escape they choose. Who are we to judge? We can tell them to stop playing, go somewhere else, go hit your kid or spit on your brother, whatever, just leave us alone. But there has to be something more constructive than that.

I don’t think taking away their anonymity is the answer. I’m not even sure it will stop them. It might clean up the forums a little, and I’ll admit that they are in a sad state, but I don’t think it will fix it. Trolls will get a rise out of people using their real name as well. But there might not be so many willing to share the space with them.

A lot can be done by a community simply deciding how it wants to be and changing the rules and how they respond to people who act against the chosen norm.

Anonymity has a lot of good things in it.

It gives people confidence. It gives them reassurance. It gives them a sense of belonging without the baggage. And there’s something very powerful about creating a second identity for yourself. It’s freeing. It also lets you walk away. It lets you ignore the trolls, shake off the bad players, and remember that it’s a game. It isn’t actually connected to you. Unless it is.

I also think it’s a huge gigantic monumental – did I say big? – essential and critical part of these fantastic friendships and bonds that Blizzard is predicting.

Those friendships and bonds are born out of the anonymity and the confidence to branch out into a community without the burden of your real self. The real self comes out slowly as you build up trust with your guild, your friends, your community. It isn’t just automatically there. Many of those lasting friendships are made because the people don’t know each others names, can’t google each other, can’t judge, can’t harass. They can take a lot of the crap and teasing that comes with a gaming environment because it isn’t *really* them. But it gets a lot harder when someone is using your full name. It takes a lot of nerve. Maybe not for everyone. Some folks get used to it quickly. But don’t underestimate the number of people who are not that trusting or comfortable.

WoW is meant to be an escape. A game. An adventure. You can do the adventure alone. You never have to look at the forums or join a guild. You can stay immersed. You can accomplish more when you join in with others, but it’s on your terms.

I applaud Blizzard trying to find a way to keep us immersed, provide us ways to connect and play together, let us build these amazing guilds and relationships – but you’re going in the wrong direction. If what you’re really after is the trolls, then find another way. I know the Blues take their time to try and respond, criticizing trolls and encouraging thoughtful posts. But they can only do so much. We have to step up and change how we react to them. We have to decide what we want our communities to be like, since WE are the community. And the trolls are part of it. They just seek something different out of it than we do.

But allow us our anonymity, our self-created dignity. We’ll choose the terms under which we share our names, our thoughts, and our lives with our communities. It’s that interaction, that growing of trust, that builds those communities in the first place. You can’t force it. But you can break it.

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One Comment
  1. I agree that there are other ways to dissuade the trolls without driving away legitimate posters. For every troll who drops off the forums, how many “regular” posters will drop off as well?

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