[RealID around the web] The future will be written in Chicken

Once in the twenty second century linguists tried to find the perfect simplification of all language. They dubbed it chicken. It has no grammar, no syntax and no ambiguities. The only word is ‘chicken’. Unfortunately it is so easy to learn everybody consequently did, dooming forever human society.

These linguists were never prosecuted, indeed nor could they even be identified because as aliens discovered when revisiting the planet in 16461943134916461179461626069, all language including the history books were all written in chicken.

- Chicken (uncyclopaedia)

“The future will be written in Chicken” is a phrase we use around the house to describe a paradigm shift so great that no one in the future will be able to understand why we did things the way we do today.

And the question that a lot of people are asking about Blizzard’s plans to RealID up the forums is whether this is really just about reducing trolling on a bulletin board, or whether it’s the start of something more radical than that. It is already clear that they have no  plans to back down, however great the current uproar.

We have been planning this change for a very long time. During this time, we have thought ahead about the scope and impact of this change and predicted that many people would no longer wish to post in the forums after this change goes live. We are fine with that, because we want to change these forums dramatically in a positive and more constructive direction.

Does Blizzard really care so much about the bulletin boards that they’d rather piss of the segment of the community most likely to use them than just give everyone a single forum id and call it done? Unlikely. They have further plans. This is a roundup of how other bloggers and writers around the web have been reacting.

Mike Snider writes at USA Today about Blizzard’s plans for further integration with Facebook.

Really what you are going to do once you buy StarCraft II and you take it home and install it and log onto Battle.net for the first time, you’ll be able to essentially hit a button and bring all your Facebook friends that are also on Battle.net into Battle.net and create (Real ID) relationships.

(This assumes that you have some facebook ‘friends’ who are also interested in battle.net. If you don’t fall into this group, you aren’t the main focus of their future vision.)

Stabs writes about why privacy matters and why the ‘moral’ pressure to reveal your real name is inspired by corporate greed.

What concerns me is that there is clearly an attitude that is inspired by corporate greed that has become a moral theme. It’s wrong to oppose RealId, some people say, you should be more honest. Got something to hide?

And how about reasons why people favour internet handles, not just on gaming sites but all over the net?

Tesh writes about the ideal of the internet as a raceless, classless utopia. Now, you won’t hear a lot about the utopian ideals of the internet these days, but being able to log into a place where people will judge you just on what you said and did there is something that many many users prize.

It strikes me that anonymity is valuable for free markets to work as well.  Honest feedback is generated from simple demand and supply, where business relationships are defined by the simple feedback loop of “purchase” or “no purchase”.  Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market” is concerned most with what people do, not with what they look like.  Actions, not prejudice, seem to produce the most productive results in a positive feedback cycle.

I’m not backwards about telling people that I’m female, but darned if I don’t enjoy the sense that what I write is taken more seriously on forums where people cannot immediately tell (unless I tell them). Think that’s crazy? It’s actually one of the simple pleasures of being online for a large proportion of the population.

It goes both ways of course. I like that people will come out and flame me if I say something stupid, instead of thinking, “She’s a woman, she might get upset, go easy on her.” I think being judged on your actions is a great equaliser.

Sanya Weathers is more concerned about the possibilities for stalking, and the legal ramifications.

My customers are not public citizens. Making them public citizens against their will is crappy. I can think of half a dozen reasons why someone should be allowed to be anonymous, and I’m not going to list them because any one of them is good enough. Want people to stop acting like asshats on the boards? Suspend in game accounts for out of game behavior. Hire more mods. Close the board. Whatever. This is just chickenshit.

And another thing. We know that the Facebook generation have been told that presenting more than one identity to different people is fundamentally flawed. But I put a lot of work into blogging and posting and playing as Spinks, it’s as valuable an id to me in online gaming circles as my legal name (probably more, actually). I used to have a different nickname at University as well. Just because no one outside that circle of friends ever used it doesn’t mean that it was dishonest.

Surely any identity that you have spent time establishing has value.

Randall Farmer thinks that this is a classic identity design mistake.

I’m sure they are using Facebook as an example – I often do this in my consulting practice. There is no doubt that Facebook users are better behaved in general than their YouTube counterparts, but the error Blizzard made is to assume that their player relationships are like those of Facebook.

This is where the vision of the future comes in. Perhaps Blizzard intends to force their player relationships to be like those of Facebook.

I don’t have much time for slippery slope arguments , but just for the sake of argument, imagine this:

Blizzard provides more facilities for people to use with their realID friends. More channels. Maybe a shared bank or the ability to auction things to just your realID list. Perhaps they even go as far as a random dungeon finder that only your realID friends can use. The game culture becomes less of a public space where you expect to hang out with thousands of random people but a private space just for you and your realID friends where you never need to mix with anyone else.

For sure, you’d need a LOT of realID friends to make that work, but they could encourage and reward building larger circles of friends (just like Facebook/ Farmville). And suddenly, anyone who isn’t in the loop is disadvantaged.

And no one will complain, because the history books of the future will be written in Chicken.

The battle(.net) for your real name

Blizzard yesterday unveiled their plans for the Battle.net Real ID features. In the battle.net of the future, there are only real names and if you want to chat to people across realms/ games then you will need to use them.

Not only that, but by agreeing to use the Real ID feature (and it will require mutual agreement on a per-person basis) you will also be able to:

  • Check what games your Real ID friends are playing and what they are doing
  • See all of your Real ID friends characters (i.e. all the alts on that account)
  • And obviously, you will be able to see their Real Names ™
  • … Oh and the names of any of their Real ID friends, even if you aren’t mutual Real ID friends with the person yourself.

What could possibly go wrong with this scheme? Surely no one would give our their Real ID unadvisedly. Or seek to harass someone on all their alts after having an argument in game. Or worse, use the real life information for grooming underage kids. (Note: Blizzard do say there are features for allowing parents to control their kids’ access to this feature but we all know that a lot of parents won’t know or care how to use that.)

And, of course, it is going to link in with Facebook.

It’s not quite as bad as it seems at first glance. You can still maintain a second level of in-game friends, similar to your friends list at the moment. You won’t get the cross-game chat but you will be able to see whether they are online before logging in yourself (a useful feature for avoiding annoying people, I find).

Are we seeing the end of virtual identities?

Blizzard alone won’t change the culture of the internet, but there have been stronger and stronger moves towards using real ids online from all the social media sites.

And for those of us who enjoyed being able to be different people online, it’s the beginning of the end of an era. Your boss will know which games you play. Your facebook friends will know the names of the people you play them with.

And all the cries from people who say, “But I liked keeping parts of my life separate!” will be waved aside. Maybe it’s only a matter of time until your in game id will be shown as RealName:CharName … or maybe they’ll just drop the character name and use a randomised number instead.

Maybe we are just the old guard, the people who don’t play with our real life friends because our real life friends don’t play online games. We are the people who made friends through our games because it was the best way to find people with hobbies in common. And those friends never needed to know our real names because they weren’t part of that side of our lives.

Not to mention that many of the real life people we know might not be friends, per se. Family, work colleagues, co-hobbyists from completely different hobbies – in real life, they don’t need to all know what we do in every minute of our free time. But online, because it suits the advertisers and marketeers to be able to know this, everyone else needs to know it too.

I blame the culture of F2P. Nothing is ever free. And those people who are paying via adverts want to know your name, where you live, what you do in your free time, and anything else about you that they can use for marketing purposes. And they are driving the social networking trends, because they are paying for them.

And finally, real names are nice and all. I like mine. But there are a zillion other people in the world called Jo Ramsay, and the virtual id is still useful to figure out which one of them is me.