Bonnie Nardi is author of My Life as a Night Elf Priest, a new book on the culture and gameplay of the international bestselling online world game, World of Warcraft. This is the second in a series of blog posts talking about new changes coming in the game.
For yesterday's post, describing what the new Worgen race starting area will be like when the game's "Cataclysm" expansion/upgrade comes later this year, click here. For later entries, click here and here.
Blizzard Entertainment, developers of Warcraft, announced Tuesday that starting this month, all posters on the official Blizzard forums - and there are millions - will have to use the game's RealID system, which identifies players by their real first and last names. Previously, forum posters could use the character name of their choice to post anonymously.
[Editor's note: A good chunk of Bonnie Nardi's comments below were reprinted by the Orange County Register in a story the day after this blog entry ran. The Register is the newspaper of record in the area where Blizzard has its headquarters. That afternoon, Blizzard Chef Executive Mike Morhaime announced that the company had listened to its subscribers and will not be requiring the use of real names on its forums.]
Here is Bonnie Nardi's response:
Like most Forum posters, I was dismayed at Blizzard's announcement that Forum posts will require the poster to use a real name.
The announcement reveals that the new policy is intended to promote "long-lasting, meaningful relationships." I find this eerie; I do not want such relationships with many I play with, and do not want to be told that I should want them.
One of the most striking aspects of massively multiplayer online games is the wide scope they offer for enjoying a multitude of different kinds of human relationships, some of them blissfully unbound from real life. It is wonderful that many people play with close friends and family, but many do not, and even those with RL (real life) pals in-game often create alts to venture into the world unhindered by real life obligations.
This is precisely what play offers us— the opportunity to cross over into the "magic circle" as play theorists call it, and leave behind the constraints of the ordinary.
In World of Warcraft, lightweight relationships with people you'll never meet are a juicy part of the mix—it's easy and fun to be as goofy, flirtatious, indulgent, and extravagant as you want to be. Blizzard, which has perfect pitch in so many ways, seems badly offkey in mandating that gaming should be about "forming long-lasting meaningful relationships." Ugh. Facebook envy or an evil marketing plot to form those relationships with marketers come to mind.
While affixing a real name to Forum posts does not obviate remaining anonymous in-game, the philosophy behind this move toward ever more RL disclosure violates the spirit of play in which we shake off the humdrum, leaving behind the quotidian for a space of immoderacy and freedom.
I cannot imagine that forcing people to use their real names in a gaming forum will improve the quality of posts. Many people, i.e., those gainfully employed or looking for a new job, will not take the risk to post at all. Blizzard employees work in an environment where gaming is good, but the larger culture is not there yet. Both my grown sons told me that they were wary about revealing that they play World of Warcraft to co-workers.
And not all of us are named John Smith—it's far too easy for employers to search for employees posting during working hours or to screen prospective employees for their gaming proclivities.
So, Blizzard, if anyone wants to post their real name, good for them. For the rest, please offer a choice. Keep the game playful and free and open, and don't mistake it for Facebook. We already have one of those.
Up next in this blog series: an entry describing the upcoming starting area for the new Goblin race. For more information on My Life as a Night Elf Priest, click here. Professors, to request a desk or exam copy, click here.