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Working and Playing Well with Others in MMO-Land

Sometimes serious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek. My thoughts on my experiences in the MMO community as a whole.

Author: Nifa

Why I Oppose RealID

Posted by Nifa Monday July 12 2010 at 3:04PM
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My last blog on this topic discussed why the "RealID fight" isn't over.  Today, I'm going to talk about why RealID, as it is currently implemented in World of Warcraft specifically, scares the crap out of me and why Activision-Blizzard's non-refusal to implement RealID on the forums and across their entire stable of games ever should make anyone with a account think twice before buying any Activision-Blizzard product or re-subscribing to any of their products that you currently own.
I've already discussed why using your login credentials to create a friends list that utilizes the player's real first and last name within an online gaming community is not a wise idea.  The number one reason for that is account security.  RealID, in its current implementation, is a data miner's dream and an IT professional's nightmare.  How many times do notable internet security professionals warn the non-'net savvy repeatedly to take care with what information they plaster all over the internet?  And yet, Activision-Blizzard, probably the most successful online gaming company in the history of the internet, is now telling the customer to ignore common sense and the advice of security professionals the world over and make that information public.  Add to that the known and acknowledged by Blizzard fact that has more and bigger security holes than every Microsoft product ever created combined, and RealID becomes a datamining identity thief's wet dream.
Activision-Blizzard's success means that what the company does doesn't just affect those who play Activision-Blizzard games.  Anything Activision-Blizzard does and gets away with will eventually find its way into other games because, as the industry leader, other games companies watch what they do and emulate them.  Sony Online Entertainment, Funcom, EA - if you think that these companies will not follow suit in an effort to catch the lead horse in the race, you have foolishly and willfully deceived yourself and as much as I would like to feel sorry for you, I cannot until you take the blinders off and pay attention to what's happening in the world around you...
...which leads me to nexus1 here on the forums.  He agrees with Blizzard and feels that people knowing your real name and what city you live in is no big deal.  His name is Kevin and he lives in Michigan.  His wife's name is Tina.  Kevin and Tina are perfectly content with random internet strangers knowing anything the internet spits out about them.  (We'll come back to Kevin and Tina later...) But Robert Kotick of Activision may not feel the same way about people having his home address, the cell phone number and personal e-mail of his wife, the names and photos of his three pre-teen daughters and the  names of their schools.  You see, the world is not all sunshine and roses and there is now a credible threat to Mr. Kotick's family because his wife and children's names and the actual address of his private residence are known to anyone who cares to go look up the blog that posted the information.
Speaking of real and credible threats that people like Kevin and Tina in Michigan don't seem to believe exist, Teala brought out a great point in her recent blog.  Members of the LGBT community are put at risk by RealID.  To paraphrase Teala's blog, Stephani is in the process of becoming a female.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with Stephani is immaterial - it's not your life and unless you have never once in your life misrepresented the entire truth (and that includes lying to your parents as a child), you have absolutely no right to judge Stephani for her actions or inactions in the matter.  The fact is that anyone who doesn't live under a rock knows that there is a very real prejudice against members of the LGBT community in the world.  If you're old enough to remember Matthew Shepherd, you know this.  If you're not old enough, Google it.  The Stephanis and Matthew Shepherds of the world are definitely put at risk by the concept of RealID. 
Then there are those who feel that women are overreacting when they state the very real threat of online gaming stalkers.  Felicia Day covers this topic brilliantly (and with a hefty dose of humor) in her show The Guild.  The character Zaboo may be harmless, and endearingly funny, but stalkers are not.  The CounterStrike player who was nearly murdered by another CounterStrike player who spent 6 months tracking him down in real life using nothing more than a gaming handle would not feel that he was overreacting in the least by being outraged over the concept of RealID.  Codex of The Guild probably would not feel that she was overreacting by being outraged about it either.  Now it's time for me to tell you a couple of stories not unlike the one Teala told in her blog on the subject.  Both of these stories are real and happened to people I personally know in real life, only the names have been changed to protect privacy:
Sarah played an online game for years and over time, got to know a player in game named Zion.  Both were roleplayers and in-game, their characters fell in love, got married...all that jazz.  In real life, however, Sarah was happily married and not looking to change that.  Only one problem:  Zion couldn't distinguish between the in-game characters and real life.  He fell in love with Sarah.  No matter what game they played, Zion was always there, Sarah couldn't do anything at all by herself.  Eventually, Zion managed to find Sarah's phone number and started calling her house.  Expensive gifts started appearing on her doorstep and finally, one day, the doorbell was Zion.  Fortunately for her, Sarah was able to convince Zion that the game was just that: a game, and the broken-hearted stalker came to his senses before the police had to intervene, but still, it was a terrifying situation for Sarah and her husband.
Beth and her husband Ron played online games together throughout their marriage.  Their marriage didn't have many problems until Ron came home one day and tried to kill Beth, fairly out of the blue.  Wisely, Beth left and proceeded immediately to the courthouse to get restraining and no contact orders.  Upon receipt of the court orders, she faxed copies of the orders to the legal departments of the companies when Ron began creating level one toons and new forum accounts to harass her in game because she'd placed his toons and forum accounts on ignore.  But Ron went beyond that and started stalking her via trying to hack her e-mail accounts, hacking her cell phone records, trying to find her precise location...all by using nothing more than her name and the details that he knew about her.  As a result of the divorce, Beth changed her name and had the details of her location sealed, though she has moved more than a dozen times in the past three years to get away from Ron and stay hidden.
nexus1 and others would say that Sarah and Beth should simply not play any game with an online component because, well, after all, they're just games, right?  So that's the answer, then?  Women (and men - because internet stalkers can just as easily be women, though statistics show that women internet stalkers are simply not as prevalent as male internet stalkers) who have been victimized should remain victims and just not enjoy the same rights, privileges, and comforts as the rest of society because someone chose, for whatever reason, to attempt to victimize them?  Hmm..let's try that logic elsewhere, shall we?  A rape victim should never again wear anything that remotely reveals she is female, must always wear a locked chastity belt, may never go out in public without an armed male escort, and must stay at home unless she is going to work because she's been raped before and, after all, these are all small preventive measures and since going to a bar or on a date was what enabled her to be victimized in the first place, well, it's just a bar or just a date, right?  That is the logic people are asking to be applied.  It's not apples and oranges, it is the same exact thing, simply a different contextual analysis.
Then there are celebrities.  This doesn't even need elaboration, but, goes.  One poster mentioned that s/he is in the music business.  I can't even begin to imagine the nightmare for them, and I have a cousin in the music business.  I also have a cousin in acting and I myself used to be in television production, so this is something I can speak to a bit.  The sheer number of requests to "listen to my demo," "get me on the set," etc., would be so staggering as to literally make one's head explode.  Personally, famous people don't faze me because they're just people, but then, I've worked 20 hour days with many of them and seen them without their makeup.  I know which ones are just genuinely nice people and which ones I was not as happy to work with.  But these are things that I know because I've worked alongside them as a professional, not because they ganked me in a battleground or because I disagreed with what they had to say about my class.
The fact is that gaming is still a subculture. It is not mainstream and it may never be.  There are places and fields where it is a horrible idea to have it known that you are a gamer and an even worse idea to have your real name known and those reason are varied but have nothing to do with how tactful you are on a game forum.  The intelligence professional in the military or the civilian sector does not want that information out there, period.  Nor does the law enforcement officer, paramedic, doctor, nurse, lawyer, judge, game developer - for any company (just ask the Burning Crusade producer whose wedding site got inundated thanks to the same blogger who revealed the names of Robert Kotick's children as well as his home address)...the list goes on.  My private life is none of my employer's business, especially if my employer knowing that I play online games can jeopardize promotions or even cost me my job because of the field that I work in.  The idea of "do nothing in private that you wouldn't do in public" doesn't hold water here because I'm pretty certain, Kevin, that you and your lovely wife Tina wouldn't have sex in the middle of the freeway even though you are married (if you would do so, I hope you enjoy jail, because it's illegal in most places to do so), because sex is a private act (generally speaking - those who engage in it publicly are called fetishists) even though there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with the act itself.  And so it is with gaming:  there is absolutely nothing wrong with games or gaming.  Many people who post on the forums may be helpful sorts that write guides and answer questions honestly and helpfully...but if their employers learned they played World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, EverQuest, Star Wars Galaxies, or any other online game, would look for reasons (in a non-at-will employment state where a reason is needed; in an at-will employment state, no reason at all is needed to terminate an employee and playing online games is as good a reason as "I don't like the shoes you wore to the company picnic.") to terminate or deny advancement to the employee who plays them.
In the end, the RealID debate is about the big picture:  how does RealID - as a whole - affect 11.5 million people?  I'm a straight, divorced, white woman who is fortunate enough to be able to avoid the issue of gaming having any impact on my employment, and who has a name that doesn't reveal my full descent - but I can certainly see the impact it could have on transgenders, individuals of races/countries of origin that would easily be discriminated against, people in career fields that would be seriously negatively affected, celebrities, abused/battered spouses & children who have had to run and hide for their lives, people who have been or are being stalked, families with children since there is no law preventing pedophiles from accessing the internet, anyone concerned with protecting their identity from fraud, anyone concerned with the security flaws in the system...the list goes on.  Then again, I don't often wear blinders because, as a general rule, I like to be able to see the disasters headed my way so I can avoid them.

RealID: The Fat Lady Has Not Yet Sung On This Nightmare

Posted by Nifa Saturday July 10 2010 at 10:44AM
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Yesterday, Activision-Blizzard wisely listened to their community (and the press) and backed away from the proposed policy to implement the mandatory use of RealID on their community forums.

That doesn't mean this fight is over.

RealID was implemented in-game in the latest patch in such a manner that allows players to opt-out simply by not participating, by refusing any friend requests through the system, or by enabling parental controls on their accounts.  The problem, however, is that the RealID system itself uses players' login credentials in order to work.  For a company that is known to have vast security holes the size of unexplored space in its system, this is an unwise move to begin with.

Let's also look at the fact that it is a violation of the TOS and EULA for anyone under the age of 13 to have their own World of Warcraft account, but it is well within the terms of service and the end-user license agreement for any adult to either open an account for their child or to allow their child to create characters on their account.  Opening an account for your child enables you to set parental controls specific to that account - no problem there.  But creating a character for your nine-year-old on your account, where you probably have not chosen to set parental controls...creates a problem.  If you do partake of the RealID system, your nine-year-old child could be mistaken for you - a situation that no reasonable adult really wants, I don't think.

RealID, as currently implemented, is poorly thought out:  it allows Joe Snuffy, the friend of my guildmate whom I do not know (and may not want to know), to see who I am, what games I play through Activision-Blizzard, what character I am playing within those games, and exactly where I am and what I am doing within any Activision-Blizzard game at any time that I happen to be logged in.  It is not controllable by individual character (which does not allow a parent to shield their child from this random Joe Snuffy guy that they do not know), and it uses the players' actual login credentials in a system that is already so full of security holes that gold spammers and sellers are able to hack accounts almost at will and cost both Activision-Blizzard and individual credit card companies millions of dollars per year in the costs associated with their scams.  In short, it is a security disaster.

The fact that Activision-Blizzard wanted to take this security nightmare a step farther and backed down for now doesn't count for much - odds are that the number of canceled preorders of StarCraft II as well as the numbers of canceled accounts in addition to the thousands of pages of outrage on the official forums showed the company that gamers take this breach of privacy and security very seriously.  The fact that, in the UK, the proposal violates the law certainly didn't hurt the cause of the RealID opponents, either (God save the Queen...and the House of Commons!  Can we get Congress to enact something similar over here across the big pond, please?), as having one policy for the United States, one policy for the UK (does Canada fall under its own laws in this, or does it fall under the laws of the UK in this matter - anyone?), one policy for the rest of the EU, one policy for China, and another policy for the rest of Asia cannot be terribly cost effective and must be a legal nightmare.

Still, gamers, as a rule, are different from the vast majority of folks in two things:  we do not tend to be apathetic in terms of legalities and knowing our rights, and we have memories that would make ancient societies pale in comparison.

Gamers rarely ignore fine print on documents.  We actually read pesky little things like terms of service agreements, end user license agreements, hell, some of us even read contracts and credit card agreements because we like to know what it is that we're getting ourselves into.  While the mythological stereotype exists that many of us are basement-dwelling, socially-inept, uneducated, jobless fools with monitor tans, the reality is that many of us are fairly sharp folks with jobs, spouses, children, homes, and two or more cars in the garage.  Many (but not all) of us are anal-retentive, detail-oriented individuals that read everything down to the finest of fine print, and so we hold companies strictly accountable to that which they've stated/promised/advertised.

Which brings me to the point of the memories of many gamers. Get a thousand gamers together in five years and ask them to raise their hands if they remember any of the following:

  • NGE
  • Age of Conan beta & launch
  • Mike Tyson's Punch Out (holy crap, I just dated myself there, didn't I?!)
  • Activision-Blizzard threatening to release gamers' real names on the forums

Odds are that every hand in the room will go up when each item is mentioned (except maybe for Punch'd have to be *covers mouth, mumbles age* to remember that one), and that all of them except the Punch Out reference (c'mon...that game was hella fun!) will elicit very strong negative reactions even five years from now - which they all should!

But just because Activision-Blizzard has backed down from sharing players' real names for now does not mean every single gamer on the planet does not still have a dog in this fight.  This is about profit, pure and simple.  Focused marketing, social networking, Facebook mergers - whatever they're doing, this is far from over.  To start giving Activision-Blizzard attaboys for backing down after creating a huge controversy with their unbelievable arrogance is foolish and shortsighted at best.  

RealID is not bad in and of itself...provided it doesn't use login credentials and personal information in order to create a social atmosphere within Activision-Blizzard products.  As it is currently implemented, though, it does force players to give real world information to people that they may not want having that information (via "friends of friends" being able to view such information).  Blizzard can and should be able to accomplish the same social atmosphere by using my universal account name - not my e-mail - and by not displaying my real name, and by allowing me to exempt certain characters from being displayed if I so desire, as well as giving me the option to show up as being offline (as a member of guild leadership, I may not want to be found that day if I'm playing my Alliance alt on another server).  

Until Activision-Blizzard starts showing some sense of responsibility in this area with RealID, in my opinion, Jon Wood's (Stradden) recent column is right on the money:  I've canceled and they're not getting another penny of my money - neither Activision nor Blizzard - until they show some sense and take some responsibility.  And no, you can't have my stuff. ;)

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