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Blizzard's Real ID may be a misstep - but at least it's thinking about community, when many rivals aren't

Game companies are no strangers to strong opinions from their customers, but even Blizzard - a firm accustomed to howls of outrage whenever it makes a change to World of Warcraft - may have been taken aback by the speed and passion of the response to its plans to enforce "Real ID" on WoW's community forums.

The company's intention is to try to drag discourse on the forum back to some measure of civility by attaching everyone's real names - which Blizzard has access to thanks to their billing relationships with their customers - to their posts.

The company's intentions are obvious, and unquestionably good. At present, posters on the Blizzard forums use their in-game names, which creates some semblance of a reputation for each poster - but it's an imperfect system, at best, as evidenced by the speed with which many topics can descend into abuse and unpleasantness.

Changing to a real name system would, at a stroke, ensure that players are attached to a single identity, removing their ability to anonymously abuse or troll other users. It would force people to think about the possible consequences of what they were writing, now that it was attached to their real names - to ask themselves whether they really wanted a future employer, doing a quick Google search, to turn up abusive tirades on a gaming forum, or worse, racist, sexist or homophobic statements.

The operator of a popular BBS I used well over a decade ago employed a simple phrase as the basis for many of his moderation decisions - "you own your own words". It was simultaneously a refusal of unnecessary censorship, and a warning to those who might otherwise be censored; with permission to speak, comes responsibility for the consequences of your speech.

Blizzard's intent, no doubt, is to bring that fact home to its posters, stripping them of the anonymity which seems to bring out the worst in many gamers and internet users in general - as summed up rudely, but depressingly accurately, in a famous Penny Arcade comic strip some years ago.

This may seem like a bit of a storm in a teacup to many in the games business - an interesting footnote to the slow and tortuous development of the relationship between game companies and their customers, at most. It is, however, indicative of a much wider issue which the industry has, so far, shown little enthusiasm for tackling.

Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.
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