This morning, Activision-Blizzard took a well-aimed shot at the basic premise on online interaction.

At about 9:00 this morning PST, Blizzard announced on the official Starcraft II Beta forums that “anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID — that is, their real-life first and last name — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it.” This change, along with several other less controversial additions, are aimed at making the Starcraft II forums more useful to developers. At the moment, the forums are infested with a mess of redundant and seemingly pointless threads where the forums are intended for constructive feedback from the Starcraft II beta testers. These changes will hopefully bring some order to the chaos and allow developers to shift through the madness without having to separate the troll from the feedback.

Regardless, the idea of being forced to post on an online forum with your real name is somewhat disheartening, and the massive thread count on the Blizzard official forums as well as well-known community sites such as shows how important this issue is the community. The debate can pretty readily be divided into two camps: the realists and the idealists. The idealists point out that this change could deal the deathblow to trolls and flamers on the official forums and do exactly what the developers intended: make the forums into a place for healthy debate and discussion about the mechanics of Starcraft II. The realists counter that without the anonymity of an online alias, no one will post on the forums. The realists arguments range from concerns about potential employers learning about your closest gaming habits to shady characters being about to figure out your personal information with just your name. For the moment, at least, it seems the realists are winning.

The realists concerns aren’t exactly unfounded either, take this post for example. In order to alleviate concerns, a Blizzard employee named Bashiok posted his real name on the forums. In short time, a blog post appeared with his address, phone number, family details, as well as the fact that he lives with his mother. This news story about a gamer hunting down and killing a rival player in May keeps getting tossed around too as further evidence of the need for anonymity.

Internet interaction, particularly in online gaming, stems from a premise of anonymity. In online gaming, one can ‘escape’ from the day to day mundane and become something one is not. Whether it be a Zerg Cerebrate in Starcraft, an Night Elf Druid in World of Warcraft, or even a Star Wars universe Jedi Master, all these things are possible through the  shield of an online name. My name is clearly not TwinHits, but this is the name that I have chosen to separate my online self from my offline self. Without this shield of anonymity, what escape does the internet offer?

Then again, internet anonymity hurts the legitimacy of the internet. Anonymity allows for less scrupulous characters like trolls and forum flamers to exist with little fear of repercussions, the very bowels of the internet exist almost purely because of the veil of anonymity. Without this premise, the internet would be much closer to the real world, being able to take advantage of the accountability and legitimacy of ‘real life’ interaction. Unfortunately, this argument doesn’t hold so much with the younger generation as more and more people accept communication on the internet with just as much weight as real interaction. Fellow bloggers Sir WalterstheGreat and I both have extensive experience with communication on the internet developing into a offline and online friendship

Yes,  Blizzard’s announcement is just one forum, and if this was any smaller of a venue the idea might not be so troubling, but who doesn’t know the names Starcraft and Blizzard? These are influential names in gaming. If the effect is not felt with this first implementation, scheduled sometime before the 27th, surely there will be changes when Blizzard changes the World of Warcraft forums as well.

I for one, am curious simply to see what will happen next when this change takes place, and I’m willing to accept it for now. I don’t post in the official Starcraft II forums, and don’t plan to after this change takes effect. My question for the community is this, as an experiment in online-offline integration, what does this mean for the internet as a whole? If this works, what do you think will come next? If it doesn’t, do you think there is hope for a safe, public, yet still escapist internet?