But wait, there's more! Blizzard's PR statement finishes out by pointing out that it wants to create a community that can forge long-lasting, meaningful relationships. By using our real names, we'll be able to interact with one another on a brand-new, closer level.
This is the set of statements that has been lost in the shuffle, and a set of statements that I want to call foul on. We already form meaningful, long-lasting relationships in our games when we make the effort to do so. We don't need one another's real names to do that -- we've already set up the friendship based on who the person is, not on their real name.
Two weekends ago, I attended Anthrocon 2010 in Pittsburgh. Anthrocon, like most conventions, is filled with geeks who just love playing games. (I got spy checked by the Blu team from Team Fortress 2 upon entering the convention hotel.) And, like most other communities/conventions, many of the attendees have close bonds with one another. As I followed my friends around, it was like watching a giant family reunion. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged regularly, and introductions flew fast and furiously.
But, in all of this mayhem, "real names" weren't being thrown around. Attendees wore badges with drawings of their "furry" personas, and every single person I met gave me his or her taken name, rather than his or her real one. The exact same thing happens pretty regularly to me at gaming conventions as well, where players would much rather use their character names and servers as identification, not their real name.
Why? Well, it's pretty simple -- we want to be connected with the things we do in our respective communities. Many furries are excellent artists, writers, and animators, and introduce themselves by their taken names so you quickly identify them with their work. Gamers work the same way, as we want to be identified with our in-game achievements. We don't throw our real names onto our characters, so we throw our character names onto ourselves.
"And, beyond that, fostering a good community isn't as simple as clicking on a light and making everyone go by their real names."
And -- I don't think I need to say this -- but there's just something cool about running by your username. You took it because you liked it, and on some level it represents who you are better than your real name represents you. I know I'd rather not lose that, but I might just be weird.
There's an easy solution to all of this
They always say not to criticize unless you have an answer, and I have an answer -- master account names, a la Xbox Live Gamertags and Cryptic Studios' @masteraccount. One forum account name, not multiple forum account names -- one for every character on your account.
This simple fix could even be designating one of your characters to post as, and that's it. It all comes back to posting under one name, so that name can be tracked to everything you do in the game. Real ID is all about intimidation through reputation, so why not set one name down? Sure, people will still troll, but then they'll be removed and ignored by the community as the trolls they are.
But as long as players and trolls can make multiple names to post as on your forums, chaos will continue. Reputations can't be assigned, as all players can be whoever they want to be. But once you lock it down to one single name, people won't be so cavalier.
And, beyond that, fostering a good community isn't as simple as clicking on a light and making everyone go by his or her real name. Fostering a good community takes large amounts of work, community leaders, and encouraging a safe environment for everyone to discuss their opinions. All of these things will help curb trolling and vicious attacks, but there is no magic bullet that automatically destroys those things. I'd rather see the company work on those pieces of its community over something like Real ID.
So what's in a name? Nothing, until there are qualities you can assign to it. Real name, fake name, it doesn't matter until both history and reputation can be applied.
[Edit: And so it is over. Good riddance.]
Seraphina Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who likes her real name and has certainly made it public, but also likes some privacy now and then. When she's not writing here for Massively, she's rambling on her personal blog, The Experience Curve. If you want to message her, send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her on Twitter through Massively, or through her personal feed, @sera_brennan.