When I first heard of the latest news from Blizzard, that our Real Names will be visible when we post on the new forum system (this change will not be retroactively implemented) I spent about 40 minutes typing out an impassioned rant talking about privilege and how many people are oblivious to the concerns of others. Then I had to raid, and then the internet and twitter exploded and I figured it would be better to sleep on it. This news is definitely not surprising (and quick on it’s heels was the reveal of a security flaw in the current in-game implementation of Real ID.)For every person putting their real name out there, there are hundreds more that are horrified at this change. Personally I suspect I will post on the forums with my real name, but with no connection to this blog or my characters visible. The reason I will do so I will go into later in this post. Warning, this post is going to be a long one as it is going to cover analysis of additional new forum features.
First I shall start out by linking to the ‘official’ threads – a 49 page thread at battle.net, a 1000+ page thread on the US forums, and another 140 page thread on the EU forums. Chastity over at Righteous Orbs perfectly encapsulates my visceral reaction to everyone who has answered the outcry against RealID with “‘lol i can share my name it’s totes not a problem stalkers aren’t real” or even “All the people objecting are probably trolls anyways.” My blogroll is full of folk objecting to this change, with only a few coming out in agreement with Activision (or at least calling everyone who objects paranoid.)
Trolls won’t stop
Lack of anonymity does not remove trolling. People are quite willing to put their real names to misogynistic, racist speech and harassment all over Facebook. ‘Real Names’ is not some magic pill that is going to make everyone act politely. Physical proximity to a person doesn’t do that – going to a club I can see a person’s FACE and that doesn’t prevent them from groping me without my consent. Walking down the street I can be subjected to sexual harassment by strangers (who I can clearly identify). The idea that a real name (which can still be false, as it appears that some folk can register fake names to their Real ID. I am unable to change the name on mine.) will increase accountability is false.
It will stop the ‘level 1 troll alt’ culture of course, but instead we will see a wave of fake Real ID accounts. To stop trolling they need to invest more money into enriching the moderation infrastructure. They need to invest in the individual forum communities, and stop treating them as one monolithic entity. On a day to day basis the only official forum I touch down on is the Realm Forum, and even on our tiny server it is under moderated. More moderators and better tools for dealing with infractions, more transparency of moderation – this is what it takes to build a useful, thriving community.
Opt-in and Opt-out
‘Well don’t post then’. You opt-in to the new realid forums by posting. Currently many a Blizzard support email will simply tell you to participate on the forums. One of the ‘defences’ of the new system is that you don’t have to post. Blizzard will be legally obliged to inform posters what information will be made public if you chose to post, otherwise they really would be opening themselves up to lawsuits and the like. As it is, by reading the forum terms and being informed of the fact that your real name will be made publically available, Blizzard are likely to have covered their asses legally.
A problem with this is that Blizzard Technical Support is notorious for redirecting people to use the Technical Support forums. While I am not a fan of the current forum system (I have 8 years experience in managing large communities) I actually feel their public technical support is very good for what it is. While there are a lot of annoying bugs that don’t get solved, the CMs are generally on the balls and the stickies are brilliant resources. Having to opt out of this because Activision decided that Real Names are worth losing the voices of Marginalised Groups for is extremely disheartening.
Silencing Marginalised Voices
Now, in order to not share your name, you can no longer participate in any community discussions. If you have a concern (tinfoil or legitimate) about your privacy, you can no longer make your voice known without revealing personal information. Part of Blizzard’s Mission Statement is “Every Voice Matters” : Mine apparently no longer does. So much for “Lead Responsibly”.
Are Real Names really worth losing and alienating these marginalised gamers? Blizzard isn’t giving out your name without your permission if you post, but the net-effect of this change will just mean a lot of constructive voices not posting. Another white 20 something male posting his real name and saying ‘go on google men’ is just displaying his privilege, he is not convincing anyone that using a real name is a safe thing to do on-line, especially after 15 years of Government warnings about looking after your personal information.
The standard response to those of us saying we are worried about harassment is to not post. Way to go with being inclusive.
The New Comment System Will Be Abused
There has been remarkably little commentary on the new posting system. Not only will they bring back threaded comments (really? really? All the major forum software coders now provide flat listings as standard.) but they will also use wow.com style voting up and down. While it gives us as users the power to vote down horrible comments, it also gives arseholes the ability to silence people on the basis of their gender, or a name that reveals a particular ethnicity.
We also plan to add a number of other features designed to make reading the forums more enjoyable and to empower players with tools to improve the quality of forum discussions. Players will have the ability to rate up or rate down posts so that great topics and replies stand out from the not-so-great; low-rated posts will appear dimmer to show that the community feels that they don’t contribute effectively to the conversation, and Blizzard’s community team will be able to quickly and easily locate highly rated posts to participate in or to highlight discussions that players find worthwhile.
In addition, individual topics will be threaded by context, meaning replies to specific posts will be grouped together, making it easier for players to keep track of multiple conversations within a thread. We’re also adding a way for Blizzard posters to “broadcast” important messages forums-wide , to help communicate breaking news to the community in a clear and timely fashion. Beyond that, we’re improving our forum search function to make locating interesting topics easier and help lower the number of redundant threads, and we have more planned as well.
I can see the ‘vote down’ simply being used BY trolls (even with their real names) to silence the voices of others. This makes it even easier for the majority to silence and dismiss dissenting voices that don’t fit into ‘mainstream gamer culture’. Currently it is possible to participate without revealing your gender, or to share a story about issues of gender, sexuality, ableism and even racism without attaching your toon or real name to it. That won’t be possible any more.
The Dangers of Online Stalking are REAL
I am fed up of seeing stalking dismissed by so many people. It may never have happened to you, but it can and does happen to a lot of people worldwide. We’ve all heard the extreme stories where people get murdered, or a Minor has been saved from a pedophile. However there are millions of women (and men, and non-heteronormative people) worldwide who experience daily harassment, both cultural and personal, and shouldn’t have to. This is a good link on how sexism is still wildly rampant when it comes to the tech and gaming communities (not to mention the prejudices faced by those with non-binary gender, sexuality, or people with disabilities.)
It is a legitimately dangerous and scary thing, even if it never progresses beyond anonymous comments on a blog, or anonymous email. It can escalate even further and impact on your career, your mental health, and your family. And often there is nothing you can do about it. Dealing with harassment is not something that can be simplified into ‘oh well, report him to the police then’ because the Police are not there to protect you 24/7 and they do have limited resources.
Context of information is important
“But all of your information is on facebook/the phonebook/the electoral roll!”
Hah. Right. Okay. I may end up getting harassed while I walk down the street, but my real name isn’t stamped across my forehead so I don’t have to worry about that harassment once I have left the area or gone home. Information is power, but without context it can be fairly meaningless. Unattached to anything on the internet, it floats. Once you attach it to things, then it starts becoming dangerous, a tool for harassers. A convenience for them, even.
I think this is especially true for roleplayers, who are taking the steps of immersion even further. While no one should have to be ashamed of a hobby, it doesn’t change the stigma attached to MMOs or to more old-fashioned roleplaying. The name on the WoW forums is a problem because it identifies you in a gaming context, specifically a very hostile and public one, and opens your name up to use by folk who will harass you via other mediums.
Part Two coming soon!