The End of (Character) Privacy

I have a question for you all: how differently would you act if everyone suddenly knew your whole list of characters; if every forum post, every item loot, every auction listing could suddenly be tracked  back to you? If you’re like me, in that you are you no matter WHAT skin you wear, the answer would probably be not very. Some people, though, as evidenced in this 2009 thread have major problems with the idea. When the WoW Armory first came out and the idea first proposed, this was a big deal. Many threads were started, though lost to the recent site change, and the overwhelming consensus was that: “WE BE PIS$ED!!11!” Have we progressed? Are we still in in this place where our alts are our business and our business alone?

I got to thinking about this today and, honestly, I don’t understand why it needs to be kept so private. Here are the areas I see the most opposition coming from.

Case #1: Roleplay: “Having everyone know my characters takes away my ability to roleplay! How can I be someone else when everyone knows who I am anyways?!”

This reason may sound valid up front, but the underlying logic is so full of holes you could drive a mac truck through it. The whole point of MMO roleplay is to extend disbelief. Your goal is to forget that there’s a person behind the keyboard and that the orc in front of you is really an Orc. Still, nobody actually believes the orc is an orc. It’s a person pretending to be an orc. If you’re extending disbelief to roleplay in the first place, one person playing a different role makes no difference in the world. If you’re that bothered by knowing Joe is actually an orc AND a troll, you probably weren’t cut out for roleplay in the first place. Face it, the days of Character Separation meaning anything died in the early days of MUDs. CS is absolutely a relic of a forgotten age.

Case #2: I don’t want to be seen

There’s some legitimacy to this one. Sometimes you just want to be alone. Playing a character that no one else knows about allows you to slip away and disappear. Here’s the thing though, it really doesn’t matter if people know your characters or not. The chat system in almost every game gives you all the tools you need to avoid human contact. /DND – AFK. Sure, maybe it’s a little dishonest, but pretending to be online when you’re really not is a little dishonest too. Either way, you’re avoiding people. If that doesn’t work, or maybe in addition to it, you can set up a new chat tab that filters out tells. The biggest case against this is that it can make you feel a little guilty, if you’re that kind of person. We all need time alone, so I don’t think there’s anything to feel guilty about. And if you’re in a new tab then you’d never know someone messaged you in the first place. Even better: a ‘invisible’ option, like some games offer.

Case #3: E-Stalkers

I’ve heard this said before a few times too. If people know all your characters, there’s no way to get away from the people who annoy you. Here’s the example Corinthianne in the thread above gives, “My alts are my business, thank you. I don’t need meatheads whispering my alts going “HEAL MY !#%@TY NAXX PUG OMG I FOUND U IN ARMORY LOL.” First of all, how long would it take some random person to armory out every potential person in a zone? Second, what’s so hard about saying no? People do it all the time. I did it just today. My grandmother did it last time she was asked out on a date, and she’s over seventy. More importantly, this kind of thing happening is unlikely and no different than Joe Shmoe asking you right now.

Granted, there are a few among us who are big in the community — big enough where they might have fans seeking them out. But, that’s probably not you, and it’s not me. You can count those people up on your fingers, without going to your toes. And for them, there are the options in case #2. It’s not a perfect world for these folks and I can empathize with that. But like any celebrity, there’s a price to even e-fame.

My Theory

The reason for this post is pretty simple: the greater internet fuckwad theory. Pretty much, if you give some people anonymity, and give them an audience, and they turn into grade-A douche bags. Taking away some of that anonymity means making a better community for us all.

Think of it:

  • Less level 1 forum trolls
  • Less ninja looting
  • Less venom in virtually every aspect of MMORPGs

I have a belief that most of the idiots and asshats you find in MMOs probably are pretty decent people. Maybe they’re letting steam off. Maybe they had a bad day. Maybe this is just a character they don’t care about, they know they’ll never see you again, and want to see what it feels like to push someone’s buttons. Most of them probably have stand-up characters whose reputations they care about. Make them own up to their behavior, add some accountability into the equation, and I think we’d see a dramatic decrease in the kind of stuff that pisses us all off.

In the end, I think it’s the need for ownership that keeps this kind of thing from happening. People want parts of every aspect of their lives, at home, work, with their friends, to be theirs and theirs alone. It lets us feel in control, like we have a grip on ourselves. It lets us feel whole and non-dependent on anyone else. And I’m talking about more than just games here. The need for ownership of oneself is the need for privacy itself. Losing privacy means sharing. Even in such a small place as MMO gaming, sharing even so much as character names is scary — and there’s no real risk to yourself there.

I empathize with people who are against this, I really do. To me, this is all a matter of balance. Do the pros outweigh the cons? In my opinion, yes. Drastically so. If you have skeletons in your closet, though, or maybe trolled with that bank alt one too many times, maybe not. Accountability can be scary. We have to ask, though: how much are we willing to sacrifice for the greater good? If you’re giving and not receiving that web venom, I bet not much. For the rest of us…

Where do you fall, would you reveal your alts or is the privacy invasion simply too much?

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