This guest entry is reposted from her blog, The Nuclear Unicorn.
As I alluded to in my recent autobiographical posts, I was once a WoW gamer. Ahh, those were the days. I still miss those days, in fact! Which was why I was considering going back and firing up the ol’ Priestess so I could kick arse at raid healing again. I’m still in touch with plenty of WoW gamers, so my fingers remain ever so delicately situated on the pulse of that ageing but still powerful online gaming behemoth, including those times when it accelerates from WoW’s neverending and oh-so-entertaining drama.
Most in-game drama blow ups- this class getting nerfed, PVP being changed thus and so, raid gear altered in such and such a way- is geeky wonk of the nerdiest kind. But Blizzard has recently decided to inaugurate a change that raises important philosophical questions in spaces far beyond the alluring vistas of Azeroth. Real ID.
“Recently, we introduced our new Real ID feature – http://www.battle.net/realid/ , a new way to stay connected with your friends on the new Battle.net. Today, we wanted to give you a heads up about our plans for Real ID on our official forums, discuss the design philosophy behind the changes we’re making, and give you a first look at some of the new features we’re adding to the forums to help improve the quality of conversations and make the forums an even more enjoyable place for players to visit.
The first and most significant change is that in the near future, anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID — that is, their real-life first and last name — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it. These changes will go into effect on all StarCraft II forums with the launch of the new community site prior to the July 27 release of the game, with the World of Warcraft site and forums following suit near the launch of Cataclysm. Certain classic forums, including the classic Battle.net forums, will remain unchanged.”
As I reread those words on one particularly slow and sweltering afternoon I turned them over in my mind thinking this must be some belated April Fool’s joke. They’d force people to post their real names as a condition of writing on the forums? There must be some caveat to this. Surely they meant the reverse? Posting the name of your WoW character with the option of showing your real name? But, nope. They’re deadly serious.
Ostensibly, this is to ‘clean up’ the forums but I find this logic to be entirely spurious. I’m intimately familiar with how much of a cesspool the WoW forums can be. I myself have called it the Internet’s Sphincter. Yet the solution to the problem, such as it was, would be greater and stricter moderation, as well as commonsense alterations that would make it less easy to troll the forums. Mind you, I’d miss all those Level 1 Troll troll accounts named Ipwnyou or somesuch. They gave WoW a certain zest, like a punch in the stomach that makes you vomit. But it’d be worthwhile to compel users to have only one forum account, rather than one account per in-game character, to avoid this Draconian nonsense.
We’ll leave aside the fact that Real ID bears exactly the same name as the US Government’s years long initiative to harmonise American state IDs and integrate national records, the same policy that now empowers all employers to rifle through their employees’ Social Security records (and outing transgender people who can’t yet change their gender markers at the SSA).
A very eloquent friend of mine who goes by the name Silverdawn in WoW, had this to add:
“As if WoW players weren’t already notorious for being almost completely off the fucking leash and prone to wildly inappropriate responses to trivia such as…oh, losing a drop to a hunter or having your class nerfed, which really totally hasn’t resulted in players lashing out with death threats to developers or yelling at their friends and getting piss-drunk because Warlocks deal 6% less damage now. Yeah, this is a community that’s always been fantastically well-behaved and couldn’t *possibly* misuse access to another player’s real life information.”
I really couldn’t have said it better. This change will not erase the ugly social forces that exist on the forums, merely displace them. Stalking happens in World of Warcraft already. It’s a fact of life for us- us primarily being women- and now Blizzard is proposing forum changes that would make it even easier for someone to have access to your personal information?
Some players and a few apologists for the idea have offered several- well, basically two- defences.
It’s your choice! Don’t use the forums, then!
My problem with this idea is manifold. The choice is a highly coerced one. “Use this service that you may like, but expose yourself naked to the world… or just stay silent” is not much of a choice. The concept of ‘choice’ is oft abused by those who pretend that a choice made with a gun to one’s head has not been in some way influenced.
The other problem I have is that those who this change won’t hurt will disproportionately be male and cis. Transgender people who have not yet changed their names legally cannot have their RealID name altered by Blizzard. This has already been confirmed after one trans friend of mine tried to do so. This change requires a court order, something normally reserved for banks, and government issued IDs. Now a trans person needs a court order to protect their privacy in a video game? Give me a break. “Just don’t use the forums”- and what? Add another thing to the already lengthy list of cis privileges?
Women as a whole are also going to be given the short end of the stick with this. I’ve known in my time several women who played as men to avoid unwanted attention. This blows them out of the water. Such a scenario could also expose transgender men. Finally, it gives potential stalkers a good headstart on information that could be used to track down their targets. The excuse of “well, don’t use the forums!”… It reeks of the same “well, just don’t go outside!” nonsense from people whose privileges render them incapable of understanding a life perspective different from their own. One shouldn’t intentionally make something like that lesssafe if it can be helped.
While the current system definitely does not keep everyone perfectly safe, the anonymity it affords is still much better than what the proposed alternative is.
This is not a choice, it is a heavily coerced choice.
Don’t rub your transgender whatsit it in our faces!
I couldn’t agree more. That’s exactly why this is a lousy idea. It ‘rubs my transgender’ in random people’s faces without me having any control over it. Well, not me personally; I have the privilege of owning several copies of Blizzard’s precious court order. But many of my brothers and sisters just ain’t that lucky, period. There’s no ethical reason that they should have to pay a price for this when they are just trying to play a silly amusing roleplaying game.
It’s the same logic I’ve used against people who’ve whined about trans people changing their ID gender markers: if you don’t want me to “rub it in your face” then let me have an ID that does not call attention to my assigned sex at birth, ‘kay? You’ll never know the difference!
It is, at heart, a privacy issue. I speak of the specific concerns for women, cis and trans, because they’ve been given short shrift in much of the (perfectly justified) outrage on this issue. But this is something that affects everyone who plays the game. Fundamentally you should be given an uncoerced choice in whether or not you broadcast your name and other information in such an environment as WoW. It isn’t like Facebook where you create an account and then invite only your friends and family, with a good deal of control over how much strangers can see (for now, at least).
There is, also, for those of us geeks who combine our love for theory with our love for high fantasy, a philosophical dimension to all of this. To quote more from what Silverdawn said to me earlier:
“You know what bothers me? It’s that a gaming company as brilliant as Blizzard–this is, by the way, why I blame Activision–has completely betrayed its own belief in the great power of the personal character. It is the projection into the avatar, not the representation of the physical, gross self, that inspires the most passionate socialization with the greatest longevity.”
That distinction is critical. It’s very much a defining feature of roleplaying games, not just of the Internet as a whole. My own reply to this, as ever, wove personal experience into it:
“Well, for me… Quinnae and Qera were my looking glasses into life as woman. Though them, people knew me as one, and I knew myself as a woman for the first time. It was not just the struggles and the joys of the game itself, but the literary personality that emerged in the forums- the young woman whose eloquent barbs undressed the most macho of bloviators with grace that befit the Night Elf she played.
Even when a select few people were told I was “a guy” by me in confidence, the persona that Quinnae enabled me to explore and develop held me in good stead.
Had this RealID thing been in place back then, I’m not saying I’d never have come out, but WoW made the process a lot easier, the self-exploration much easier- because it did so neatly cleave between the real and the unreal while simulteanously weaving them together. The balance of that contradiction provided the netherspace in which I flourished. A place where I could move in semi-real social circles as a woman with consequences similar to the real world, but a fantasy realm surreal enough that accomodated as many masques and guises as a Harlequin ball.
Feminist scholar Hilary Rose spoke of what she called the ‘laboratory of dreams’ when discussing science fiction, and its ability to envision new social worlds that a reader could lose themselves in- daring to imagine a better future. Or a worse one.
And for me roleplaying always was that laboratory in which my own dreams were forged, even if I never quite knew it.”
For many people it never was “just a game.” Their right to privacy and- dare I call such a thing a right- their right to flights of fantasy ought to be respected. One of the greatest things about MMOs was the fact that your real life identifying markers were required only for the credit card that the folks at billing needed to see and that was that. It was all utterly and blissfully invisible to everyone you played with, night in and night out. Once upon a time, Blizzard banned people for revealing personal information about players.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, I guess, eh?