The Internet is a fascinating thing. Under the cloak of anonymity, people often toss off societal niceties and gleefully rip into each other with abandon. No subject is taboo and the most innocent comment (i.e. “Boy, I’m really enjoying this game…”) can make you the subject of some brutal retorts.
Leave it to Blizzard Entertainment, arguably the biggest game developer in the industry, to try to tame the wild, wild west that is the online forum. The company has announced a new policy to its forums, informing users that starting July 27, all posts will be made using a person’s real-life first and last names.
The “Starcraft II” forums will see the change first. “World of Warcraft” forums will switch over with the launch of the “Cataclysm” expansion pack later this year.
“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,” said Blizzard in an official posting. “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.”
A caveat of this is forum posts will be much more searchable now – so people who start flame wars over inane topics will be widely known, something that could come back to haunt them in their real life. (Employers, naturally, often ‘Google’ potential employees to get a better sense of who they really are. Seeing that a candidate is willing to launch personal insults to strangers over trivial matters likely won’t help people get the job.)
Forum members are split. Some cheer the coming decrease (though obviously not complete elimination) of distracting chatter. Others are considering making new accounts under aliases so they can continue to grief other users. Still others are raising privacy concerns.
“On one hand, I do think this will do amazing things for moving the Blizzard forums in the direction of being some of the most constructive public forums on the web,” said ‘noxiousegg,’ a user discussing the changes on Shacknews.com. “On the other hand, in a world where employers typically do Google searches for people's names prior to hiring them, this will exclude me from posting since my name is too unique. Even though I'm not a troll, usually, I don't want an employer to render arbitrary judgments based on the content of my posts on a game fourm, or worse, on the simple fact that I post at all.”