Authenticated Notoriety

Whenever I read the comment section of my local newspapers, I’m appalled by the comments and ideas held by readers.  I can only hope that they are either trolling or are under the influence of the Internet Dickwad Theory, as illustrated below from Penny Arcade:

Internet Dickwad Theory

That said, I feel that one should have to publically stand behind public statements.  Too often newsmakers use “background” briefings from “anonymous sources” or non-substantiated trends from some people.  But how about in something done for private pleasure, such as gaming?  Blizzard – creator of the very popular “World of Warcraft” – has changed their forum commenting policy to end anonymous commenting (emphasis mine):

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. The classic Battle.net forums, including those for Diablo II and Warcraft III, will be moving to a new legacy forum section with the release of the StarCraft II community site and at that time will also transition to using Real ID for posting.  

The official forums have always been a great place to discuss the latest info on our games, offer ideas and suggestions, and share experiences with other players — however, the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild. Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before. With this change, you’ll see blue posters (i.e. Blizzard employees) posting by their real first and last names on our forums as well.

Now, I don’t game – at all.  I can certainly sympathize with the concerns some gamers have on being stigmatized by current and future employers.  At the same time, anonymity breeds a certain kind of bad behavior in forums that I can’t really explain.  There are certain to be unanticipated consequences that may be more severe than flame wars and hurt feelings.

There are a variety of reasons to push for authenticated identities online, such as fear of child predators or terrorism.  It’s far more likely that the push is for advertising and taxation.  In any case, our online behavior would likely change drastically based on who is watching and our level of anonymity.   The unmasking of players and revealing of their true selves may also change the very dynamics of the game.

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