07 March 2011

Real ID vs the Avatar

Image by Katayun
When Blizzard announced their Real ID system last July, the WoW community kinda went ballistic. Most of that uproar was based upon Blizz's stated intent that player's real identities would be posted on the forums instead of a character profile. Blizzard relented, and implemented Real ID as an option, but backed off on the forum requirement of showing honest-to-goodness real names.

My local paper had an article on a similar effort where online forums for newspapers are struggling with whether to allow anonymous posting or not.

That article got me thinking about my web activity in general, including WoW, and I have to say that I'm firmly in the anonymous camp on this issue.

My Online ID
When I play the game, I'm my character. I'm referred to both in game chat and in Ventrillo chat as "Peashooter" or even a nickname of "Pea". Yes, my avatar even has a nickname.  See how developed his personality has become! I've shared on this site how I actually become the character in how I interact with players and approach the game.

That approach spans both my in-game and blogging experience. This blog is really Pea's blog. The posts are heavily influenced by his experiences (or the experiences I have had while playing him). I'm kind of like the puppet master: I'm seeing the stuff that happens, yet it's not actually happening to me. I'm even toying with the idea of following Ratshag's approach and having guest posts from Alts (Galertruby's intro is still the best guest post ever!).

Safety in Anonymity
Blogging, as other bloggers may or may not attest, feels risky. You're offering up an opinion or a thought or an observation to the Internet. I feel safer knowing that despite the fact that I'm writing the content and publishing, it's got Pea's name on it. I can hide behind Pea from any backlash. I imagine this is why some authors publish under a pseudonym; if your work sucks, you can blame some other guy for being a fail writer.

Anonymous protection extends to comments or forums, as well. See, when folks disagree, that same level of anonymous protection exists for the trolls to rip you to shreds in the comments for all to see. There is no repercussion and the anonymity protects the poster from real consequence.  And sometimes, trolls can be vicious. I encourage disagreements. Much of the allure in blogging is actual dialogue between the blogger and the readers.  But, personal attacks are pointless and messy. The lack of consequence may embolden the troll. When someone does decide to personally attack me, they are opening up on my avatar, not me personally. I'm in turn shielded by my avatar. Pretty convoluted, eh?

Taking the Step to Real ID
I'll continue to decline to share my real ID with my gaming friends. Part of it is the separation I've imposed on keeping WoW distinct from my family / friends and work. Part of it is security where I just don't want my personal details online. But mostly, it's the element of escapism. I enjoy WoW because I can slip out of my real life for a while and become a virile Hunter. I'm leery of mixing that fantasy with the reality and then somehow polluting one with the other.

How about you guys? Have you tried out RealID? Have you shared actual identifying information about yourself with your WoW pals?