Yesterday, Blizzard announced a new policy for their WoW forum posters. Henceforth, people who use the forums will be required to use their real names as authors to their posts.
Both of them.
Blizzard's forums are a great example of a community gone amok... trolling, flaming, verbal assaults especially to newcomers, etc. etc. There are a bunch of parts of this that are worth a quick note (probably more, but...)
First: why is this community so unruly?
Well, let's take a quick look at what Bizzard does... is this a community of, say, fuzzy kitty pictures? No, it's a community that plays a game that, well, glorifies violence. No two ways about it, World of Warcraft is a world at war. That's the content that's been created, polished, and eagerly sought. That's the messaging that consistently goes out to the community. And, so, well, they're listening. Told that it's all about scoring points against each other (or the Bosses)... they do.
So the next question: If Blizzard doesn't like it, why don't they step in?
That one I can't answer. But IMHO, their problem won't go away until they create clear socializing rules for the forum, and consistently enforce them. Chaos for a week, 100 people suspended, 20 banned, a long hard week for the admins and moderators, and problem solved. Why don't they do this? Not a clue. It's too hard? Sorry guys, that's a ridiculous answer. You've created a culture of abuse, but if that's not what you want, create a culture with different rules. And you've got the ability to close down accounts that don't comply, right? That should be the end of the story. It's really that simple. Or, just shut them down completely, that works, and gets the added bonus of the fansites loving you for the boost in their forum traffic (which really doesn't do much good for Blizzard anyway).
New question: why is the solution they've proposed so terrible?
Well, for one, it won't work, for a variety of reasons. The WoW community has already started posting publicly available information about Blizzard employees, to show how easy it is. I've heard the staff is none too happy about this, and who would be? There may not be as many dangers online as alarmists like to say that there are, but it is clear that there are dangers, and public information about one's identity is the key to most of them. Putting that challenge into the hands of a very large population of teen males who have been trained (by WoW) to work together to smash the Boss? What are you thinking?
Which means that most people will wisely flee the forums, leaving only the ones badass enough to post under their own names. Which is also really scary.
Philosophy times: Why identity play is a Good Thing.
There's a very long post here, but hopefully many of these points will be found in other posts: the gist is that a very large and real part of what's meaningful in online social and game activity is the ability to simulate, experiment, play, pretend. The ability to tweak our persona, explore new options, take on challenges and fail (oops), points to a very real and important part of who we are as a species: we play. We toy. We try things. We experiment and learn and experiment again. We like it.
And, I would further assert, that's why we find games and online socializing so very interesting and compelling and good. It's in our nature to explore and learn and master, especially in small groups, and this gives us an ideal way to do it. If it weren't so important to our evolution, it wouldn't be so fun.
PS Just found out the Blizzard's already backed off... someone please tell them they'd like to hire a nice online social interaction consultant and avoid such things in the future? Thanks! ;-)