‘Real’ ID

Having let my World of Warcraft subscription lapse for a little while, it’s taken until now for me to experience Blizzard Entertainment’s Real ID system first-hand. I am not in the least bit amused by it.

Since money is tight, it’s taken my friend’s kind donation of a StarCraft II guest pass for me to try this strategy game sequel out; these 14-day, 7 hour trials are included in retail copies of the game. The installer is a hefty download, but once set up it allowed me entry to a thoroughly polished game.

“StarCraft II” ‘s profile screen and Real ID rollouts.

Real ID, Blizzard’s new cross-game social system, comes into play quite early and is integrated heavily into the game’s UI. I was asked to sign in with my established Battle.net credentials when the game launched, was invited to create my ‘character name’ (“Sinnyo”, naturally), and found myself signed in to the Real ID service. The tool appears in the bottom right of each screen, and works like most other IM messengers. You can view your contacts list, set away statuses, broadcast messages and create chat sessions with individuals and groups. These groups can also form multiplayer games, making it a powerful tool for co-operative skirmishes and competitions online.

Real ID also displays my ‘real’ name to the internet without my having a say in the matter.

To be more specific, the Real ID service abandons all credibility attached to my online persona – a name I use on both World of Warcraft and StarCraft II – and instead assumes that every one of my online friends knows and accepts my legal fore- and surnames. It appears in chat messages, all around my UI (I had to blur out two instances on the screenshot above, as well as the names of my friends in the popup menu) and around the website as a means of greeting me.

This has been a sore topic amongst circles in which players have been cross-playing gender, for one reason or another, for those fearful of their own privacy, and for those who simply do not want their names broadcast in this manner. It’s not only visible to those on your contact list, either, as Real ID works for ‘friends of friends’ too – complete strangers to me.

This is a really sore point for me because I am in the process of changing my name and title by deed poll. Despite the fact websites like Amazon, eBay and even privacy-addled Facebook have a very open and easy process for admitting changes of name, Blizzard Entertainment stands out as a web service which demands the same forms of identification as a bank or a passports agency.

Finding the means to do this was no easy feat either: when I logged in to update Battle.net‘s account settings I found my names greyed out and not presented with an ‘edit’ function. The FAQs shed no light upon this, and only when I attempted to use the contact forms did I stumble across the correct form to fill in. This is it:

  • My name (naturally);
  • My email address;
  • The account I need to change;
  • The last 5 digits of my authenticator key, since I have my Battle.net account linked to this security gadget;
  • An “acceptable” form of ID (presumably a passport or drivers’ license, though not actually specified);
  • A scan of my notified name change document.

All this just so I can:

  • Keep the company up-to-date with changes to my day-to-day details;
  • Spare myself from a UI which fails to acknowledge my actual name;
  • Spare my friends the embarrassment of an incomplete transition, since my name has changed everywhere else;
  • Avoid the very real threat of abuse online from players I have never met before and to whom I would not consent details of my name change.

The solutions seem simple – either:

  • Concede to Blizzard’s strange demands and supply not only my deed poll documentation but also a new form of ID, for which I would have to pay despite neither being a driver or someone who plans to leave the country soon;
  • Disable the Real ID system, which again took some effort to find out about, and effectively remove myself from all ties to friends online and offline – and simply try to ignore the fact Blizzard is using outdated, inappropriate personal information;
  • Relinquish my dignity and carry on regardless, forever answering awkward questions and being shamed by my own past, glaring at me from the UI of a game to which I likely escape from real-world concerns.

I hate to descend into ranting, but I can think of no reasonable explanation for these demands. Real ID is, as its name suggests, a social tool which assumes I need to know who my friends “really” are. Indeed, the minisite proudly states that:

“Your Real ID friends will appear under their real-life names on your friends list, alongside whatever characters they’re playing. Gone are the days of having to remember which of your friends is which. You’ll also see your friends’ real names when chatting, communicating in-game, or viewing their character’s profile.”

Funny, I never had a problem remembering my friends’ names because, guess what? They’re my friends. More than that, I know and address most of them by aliases as any gamer would. Even when my house-mate joined in at Future Tense, a guild I co-founded with folks I met in Second Life, we used aliases because this is basic etiquette and manners.

So, Blizzard’s solution to ‘friends’ not being able to identify each other’s characters is to enforce their real-world identities, irrespective of the hardship this may cause. Two people clearly not acquainted well enough to remember a simple batch of names for each other or use one common alias are thus asked to share real-world information – exposing sensitive information to a relative stranger.

Frankly I’m dumbfounded, I’m frightened by what Blizzard is asking of me, and I’m upset that this hobby into which I’ve poured loyalty, research projects and real-world friendships may have to end simply because I cannot update my name without “showing them my papers”.