Save the Avatar, Save the World

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about Blizzard’s RealID system, and have seen many of the opinions against the upcoming change to WoW’s forums.

I think the move is lousy too, for most of the same reasons others have stated. I think ultimately the change is dangerous, both to the customers and to the health of the community. And I say this as someone whose “real ID” has been a matter of public record for a number of years now.

But there’s another aspect to this I’d like to talk about which I haven’t seen discussed so far.

My instinct is that this change will peel away yet another layer of the magic of MMOs: that of being able to pretend you’re someone else. Sure, anonymity can empower jerks to act like even bigger jerks, but the illusion of the avatar also does great things. It allows disabled gamers to ignore their physical limitations; it allows the meek to act with confidence; it allows the person with an average job and an average life to become a legend.

The danger of connecting MMOs too closely with real life is that it takes away the game’s function as a vehicle of escape, perhaps even limiting the potential of the game to inspire the imagination. That’s a heavy price to pay for cutting down on forum spam.

Of course the message boards are technically separate from the game itself, but they represent a big part of the MMO experience for a sizable number of players. That connection is being impacted by the RealID change, which means yet another aspect of the classic MMO experience is being lost–if you’re a WoW player, at least.

Now, let me pontificate to MMO developers for a minute.

From personal experience, I know that keeping a gaming forum as useful and troll-free as possible is a huge pain in the ass. Guess what? It’s also the price you pay for coming to the dance. I don’t care how big your community is or how many posts you have to moderate–hire the freaking staff to do the job right. I understand the motive of wanting to create a cleaner environment for your posters, but don’t take the positive experience away from the good folks in the name of shutting up the asshats.

There is a certain charm in the forum hero known only by a clever handle. The MMOs of tomorrow need to hold onto all the charm they can, not let it slip away–regardless of the motive.

My instinct is that it will peel away yet another layer of the magic of MMOs–that of being able to pretend you’re someone else. Sure, anonymity can empower jerks to act like even bigger jerks, but the existence of the avatar also does great things. It allows disabled gamers to ignore their physical limitations; it allows the meek to act with confidence; it allows the person with an average job and an average life to become a legend.
The danger of connecting MMOs too closely with real life is that it takes away the game’s function as a vehicle of escape, perhaps even limiting how much the game can inspire the imagination. That’s a heavy price to pay for limiting forum spam.

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Moorgard

Steve Danuser, also known as Moorgard, is a a writer, editor, and game designer.

5 thoughts on “Save the Avatar, Save the World”

  1. Totally agree and very well said. I take a lot of pleasure out of chosing my character name and trying to tie it to some sort of personality and background. Sure, very few people may enquire or appreciate it but it’s all part of the magic of MMOs. I really don’t want to known by my real name in every game I play and every related forum :( Aside from the privacy issues, there really is no fun or escapism in that.

  2. There was some speculation that it’s because of some South Korean law. It seems counter intuitive that having real names out there would be a huge benefit. Granted people will tend to act different on the forum with their anonymity stripped, but it just provides more information for them to act like jack asses outside of the forum.

    I can just imagine how many death threats I would have personally received as a result of a change like this, I’d be able to build a house with the bricks flying through my windows.

    I am no lawyer (or am I? You can’t tell because I’m anonymous!), but I believe that Blizzard may be deferring the hassle of monitoring their messageboards in exchange for lawsuits later on when someone uses this information to find someone who ninja looted something.

  3. Real names is bad. Even at FanFaires I only used to introduce myself as my character’s name, which gets weird after a couple days but is a whole lot better than someone showing up on my doorstep uninvited.

    As ridiculous as it sounds to non-gamers, I think we all know that (sadly) it wouldn’t be long before in-game disputes turned nasty in the real world if some of the crazies had the chance to do it.

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