Blizzard's decision to force posters on its forums to use their real name isn't exactly going down too well. But is posting on the internet as, well, yourself really all that bad?
I don't think it is. And I should know!
I mean, this is my real name. I've been using it here since I started. Everything I've ever said, ever written down on this site can be attributed not to some mysterious handle or anonymous avatar, but to me.
Before we go any further, yeah, I get paid to do this, which makes me a special case in many respects. Would I still use my real name if I didn't have to? I honestly don't know.
But I know that writing stuff on the internet - whether in an article or simply commenting - using my real name has a ton of advantages, both for me and for you. For one, it makes me more accountable for the things I say. I've said some stupid things on this website over the years, and as I'm human, will probably say some stupid stuff in the years to come (you may even think this is stupid!), but the fact it can all be held against my name and identity gives me pause every time my fingers hit the keyboard.
That's how things are in the real world when we're communicating, it's how things were when people sent letters, it's even how things work when (most) people send emails. When what you say can be held against your actual identity, real world sentiments like civility, manners and reason kick in, all things in sadly short supply online.
[Warning: This vid is NSFW]
When someone you were talking to ceased to be "Diablo117" and became "Jim Neighbour, from Ohio", would you be as likely to make a dirty slur? To wish death on their family? To make gags about sticking your balls in their mouth? I don't think (or at least, I'd like to hope) that many of you would.
This is a big reason behind Blizzard's push: that implementing real identities will cut back on some of the horrific conduct people engage in, and have to suffer through, simply for wanting to communicate on the internet.
It may not be the only reason; many sceptics point to some more nefarious motivations behind the move, if not from Blizzard then from Blizzard's parent company Vivendi. Others are also - rightly - concerned about privacy, when suddenly the veil is lifted and what were once avatars and handles become real people.
I'm not going to fully support the move, because I agree in some respects that privacy violations may well become an issue. But I do think that lots of people - especially those happy to have Facebook accounts - are using the "privacy" excuse as a smokescreen to cover up the real reason for their opposition to using real ID: that their days of trolling Blizzard's forums, of not being able to be held accountable for their actions, are coming to an end. And they don't like it.
But it's OK! I can tell you from experience that communicating on the internet without making vulgar jokes or insulting people's heritage is more fun that it sounds. You may even grow to enjoy the civil conduct. And if you don't agree? Well, at the very least having your real name up in lights should be enough to give you pause before trolling, and if that's the best Blizzard's forums get out of the move, then we've still come out ahead.