I've never seen the WoW blogosphere go as crazy as it's been going in the last couple of hours over the proposed changes to the official forums that will force you to display your real name on your forum posts. I wonder if Blizzard will actually go through with the idea in the face of so much outrage. I'm doubtful, to be honest. Either way, there's been a lot of good food for thought out there, and that's always a good thing.
I think Rohan's stance over at Blessing of Kings is the one that I agree with the most. I may feel apprehensive about the idea of posting under my real name (not that I've ever posted much on the forums anyway), but at the same time I like the idea of such a bold social experiment. If it goes live, we'll see how it works out.
Dwism has a very thoughtful post on the subject as well, talking about how attitudes about identity change with the generations. Each new generation brings about change. Maybe giving out your real name online will be perfectly normal in twenty years time? My own mother still thinks that computers are evil and that their very existence is eroding the basis of society. I just shake my head at her. Maybe this is also just one of those things where our children will shake their heads at how old and stubborn we are later on?
I have to admit that despite of my apprehension, I'm inclined to be optimistic, unlike most other bloggers apparently. Many only seem to be willing to see the worst possible outcome.
For example the issue of crazy stalkers. The case of this poor fellow certainly gave them a lot of fuel for that particular fire. On the other hand, the way I look at it, all this proves is that it's unpleasant to be the only identifiable person in a crowd of anonymice. It's like having a big sign over your head that says "if you want to harass anyone, pick me - I'm an easy target". That's not news. The system that Blizzard is proposing will force everyone to use their real name if they want to use the forums, so nobody will stand out. Who are you going to pick on then? The guy with a funny name? Everyone who disagrees with you? You'll be busy for a while and nobody will be impressed. If using your real name is the normal thing to do, it won't attract that much attention anymore.
People are worried about discrimination. Certainly a valid issue, but at the same time one we have to deal with in real life all the time. Surely learning to deal with it online as well won't ring in the end of the internet as we know it? I understand that people would mourn the loss of a safe space where they could be anonymous, but at the same time I don't think that being identified as a woman or whatever is as horrifying as some make it out to be. It all seems to boil down to what we're used to. We're used to the internet being anonymous, so we don't want it to change. The real world is not anonymous, but would it be better if it was? Would it be better if we only left the house wrapped up from head to toe to be completely unrecognisable? At least this woman doesn't think so, and that's why I'm at least willing to consider that a non-anonymous WoW community might actually be a better place.
There's also the concern about (potential) employers finding out that you play WoW and people getting stigmatised. Again, a valid concern, but again there is more than one way to look at it. After all, stereotyping works more than one way. If so many people are ashamed of admitting to their gaming hobby and try to hide it for whatever reason, of course others are going to think that something must be wrong with it. On the other hand, if a lot of reputable people were suddenly forced to make it widely known that they play WoW and that it doesn't harm them in any way, couldn't that shatter a lot of preconceptions?
The main reason that I'd personally rather not have my real name associated with the WoW forums is not really any fault of WoW's or Blizzard, but the way the internet works as a whole. Everything you say might get stored somewhere, for years, just to randomly show up on a Google search out of context, which leads to rather bizarre results at best. I mean, if I look up my own real name on Google, of the results actually related to me there's my Facebook page (okay), some article that I wrote for a young adult writing competition a couple of years ago (eh?), a medieval text that I translated while at university (random)... now add a bunch of posts on the Blizzard forums to that mix and it will give anyone who happens to look me up a very skewed picture of my online activites. Awkward.
Then again, if Blizzard's experiment is a success, more companies might go down that road, leading to more and more varied search engine hits for all of our names. I try to keep an open mind.