The Nature of Online Gaming

Jul 11, 2010 | Video Games

The things you read at 4am…

What with the debacle of RealID, I’ve cancelled my subscription to World of Warcraft again. I was thinking of returning once I know for sure that the system will not expose my private information or connect my WoW characters with my real life name, but after doing some research, I think this may be the time I drop the game for good.

I read a few articles on RealID and the commentary from various WoW players, and eventually I came across this one that talks about the methods that games use to sucker players in and keep them paying. It’s a huge shock to read that and compare what they’re saying to my experience of World of Warcraft – and I will tell you 100% that it’s all true, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and it’s terrifying to me.

Leaving aside the thought of games designers using psychological tinkering to keep people playing instead of actual innovation, it took me a while to learn that the RealID thing is a result of Blizzard doing a deal with Facebook. That alone threw up some major red flags for me; they might have the best of intentions and plans for a new social gaming network, but going through Mark Zuckerberg? The man who doesn’t believe in privacy, and whose company is constantly getting slammed over selling user data, and who thinks people who give him their information are dumb?

If Blizz think for one second that I’m getting involved with that, they’re barking mad. Everything is saved on the Internet, and I can’t risk something in WoW getting attached to my real life name – especially when I’m planning on being a published author, and I need to control my online image. I played it for stress relief, for goodness sake; that implies a certain freedom in what I say and do in that it has no consequences because I remain anonymous. I don’t want to play a game where my virtual actions might come back to bite me later in real life.

That’s to say nothing of the people who really, really want to be anonymous. Celebrities, for example. They have hobbies too, and it’s common knowledge that some of them play WoW. If everyone knows who they are, how can they play the game normally? Female gamers, as well, have a trend of hiding their true gender to avoid harrassment – and I should know, because I’ve been there. I spent a year playing a male character and pretending to be a guy after a few bad experiences. Are we supposed to just suck it up and accept that our identities will be exposed?

They might have backpedalled now and decided to hold off on forcing people to use their real names on the game forums, but it’s not good enough. They’re still implementing it in-game in the next expansion, and allowing friends of friends (i.e. complete strangers) to see a person’s real name. There’s apparently an addon bug that exposes your name to anyone.

I forsee a situation where Blizzard and Facebook will exchange user information in order to build an even bigger social profile of a person. Facebook already has their real life info, and Blizz can supply their WoW or Starcraft habits and their in-game chatter; Facebook gets even more user info out of the deal, and Blizz gets access to Facebook’s 400 million users through their friends who already play their games. Needless to say, I didn’t sign up for that, and the new Terms of Use I had to agree to in order to access my account and cancel my subscription didn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

End of an era, I guess. I’m sure some people will be celebrating.