If you ever want to be really, really insulted, a great place to go is the World of Warcraft forums. They've grown to be one of the largest online gaming communities on the Web, and they've had a huge problem with trolling, aimed both at moderators and at users. Trolling is so common on these forums, forum trolls have debates among themselves about which of them is the funniest.
But that might be about to change. With the launch of its new online platform, Blizzard and parent company Activision are mandating that forum posts must be accompanied by a user's real first name and last name. That might take some of the fun out of calling someone "human garbage," or publicly wishing they'd get cancer and die.
Many WoW forum users have raised a great hue and cry at this turn of events -- and some of their complaints are indeed legitimate. Female players are complaining that they will no longer be able to hide from potential online stalkers, or will have the content of their posts prejudged by their gender, for example. Others don't want to have the stigma of MMO gaming attached to their real names.
Despite the fact that some concerns are real, I hope Blizzard has the conviction to ignore them and follow through with this move. It is critical for online gaming culture to move out of the shadows of anonymity, and force people to be at least a little responsible for the things they say online. It's not just on World of Warcraft -- online gamers are some of the most egregious abusers of anonymity on the Web. If you're interested in an example, and you have a high threshold for abuse language, take a look at the YouTube video a gay Xbox Live player created to illustrate this precise phenomenon.
Communities with members like these are not places where we can expect most people to become involved. As gaming becomes more mainstream, the community as a whole needs to learn a certain level of decorum, and the only way this is going to happen is if people can be held accountable for the things they do and say online.