As some of you already know, I like World of Warcraft. I want to get in the beta and play till my eyes bleed, and then I want to (in a few months) get the Collector's Edition and play some more. I might even be convinced to let it have my baby. But that's not the point ? the point is that I read the WoW forums, and I try to keep up with what's happening in terms of patches. And one little thing about this latest patch has upset a lot of people; the Naming Policy.
In particular, the parts near the bottom are what has upset a lot of people. Now, people rile on a lot about this on the forums. Since I don't have anything like a beta key, I can't really engage myself in these conversations. But I can write something here in some vain hope that someone interested might read it. I'd like to go over some of the problems people have with this policy and provide somewhat well formulated counter-points.
The case of the broken immersion
Also known as "Blizzard are hypocrites". For those who are not very familiar with World of Warcraft, it hosts a number of easter eggs and pop cultural references, among them NPCs and items with names that are tongue-in-cheek references to various phenomena; examples include Innkeeper Bates, Captain Noteo, and Tigule and Foror's Ice Cream (Tigole and Furor are Blizzard employees). Sometimes the hints are subtle, some times more blatant. And, inevitably, people complain because this "breaks immersion" and is thus hypocritical.
It seems to me that these people have missed exactly what we are supposed to be immersed in; they seem to believe that we are supposed to immerse ourselves in some drastic high fantasy world where everyone has names like Sigorun and Mardinar and save the world for breakfast. That is not so; we are supposed to immerse ourselves in, quite unsurprisingly, the World of Warcraft. Anyone who's played Blizzard games knows that Blizzard are famous for their love of light-hearted humor while still maintaining a healthy suspension of disbelief. Names like Captain Noteo fit right into the world Blizzard have been constructing these last few years. It's not in the least hypocritical.
So why is that all right, but more blatant real world references are not? Well, the answer lies in the word 'blatant'. A player named "Gandalf" could not possibly be construed as anything else than an obvious ripoff from Lord of the Rings; a trite, meaningless cliche that only serves to distract. It does not fit into the World of Warcraft. Meanwhile, a more creative, indirectly referencing name might do so. In conclusion, drop the preconception that "immersion" would inexorably mean "high fantasy". It doesn't.
The case of the exotic language
Also known as "Jesus is a Hispanic name". This is closely related to the above. Let's illustrate it with the name "Jesus", which when pronounced something like "Hey, Zeus!" is in fact a Hispanic name. People try to use this to their advantage by motivating their names by saying that they are real life proper names and that they such should be able to use it. All I can say to that is sorry, someone beat you to it about 2000 years ago.
Just because your mother was uncreative enough to name you Jesus doesn't mean you have to be too. The name is still immersion-breaking, and a birth certificate doesn't magically award you free passage through the anti-lamer minefield Blizzard has set up for the benefit of sanity. The argument that "Jesus" doesn't have to be a reference to Mr Christ-Josephson isn't really valid, simply because the name is so widespread to mean just that. Even if there is minimal space for other people named Jesus in there, the bigshot in the sky still holds the primary position, and it's him people think of when they hear the name.
This language thing a peculiar corollary, and I'll digress a bit here to talk about that. There are cases where somewhat obscure words or names from a foreign languages (or even English) are good and valid names for a character. "Fred" might not be the most thematically correct name in Azeroth, but "Corazon" or "Jasper" might actually be, despite the fact that they have real meanings in real life languages. Why? Because they are exotic-sounding enough to be reasonably construed as names that fit in the context, perhaps as a cute nickname. It all boils down to fitting in with the rest of the world; "Jasper" works, and "Fred" just doesn't.
The case of the basement lawyer
Also known as "the appeal to Fair Use". There is a recent example of a particularly asinine person who used to go by the name "Barbie" and was recently forced to change it, because it inevitably made people think of a particular piece of commercialised plastic. Now, this doesn't really make the person asinine ? after all the policy was only recently instated ? no, that epithet they earned because of the great fuss they made about it.
The person in question claimed that since her real name was "Barbara", and subsequently she was often nicknamed "Barbie", she had a right to the name. Later the person in question even brought sharks into the game by contacting Mattel's legal department and verifying that she had implicit permission to use the name in a non-plastic toy context (which she does, coincidentally). All of this is accurate, but it fails miserably because of one thing: It's utterly irrelevant.
Yes, you have a legal right to use the name. That has absolutely no bearing on whether or not it breaks immersion in World of Warcraft, nor does it prevent Blizzard from setting up their own rules on what they find acceptable or not. Fair Use principles, trademark and copyright law can under no circumstances grant you absolute permission to use a name in World of Warcraft; all it can do is prevent you from using a particular name because it violates such a law.
In conclusion one can summarize the new naming policy in one sentence: Don't pick a stupid name. You don't have to role-play to the extent where you insist on speaking in a Chaucerian English manner, but don't pick a downright dumb name for yourself either and believe that "u" is a valid substitute for "you". Blizzard is not going to come after you for naming your character Hohenheim despite its obvious reference to Paracelsus, the father of alchemy, because it fits with the theme of the game and is reasonably fantastic-sounding. The policy is there to give some footing for GMs when they see xxl33tDoodxx, Leegoolaas and PrezBush running around slaughtering murlocs by some pond, and ultimately the minor inconvenience of actually having to be creative in naming your character for once is by far outweighed by not having to spend 90% of your time staring at T33nage Pow3rg4m3r P0sse rejects.
If having to change your name means you don't want to buy the game anymore, that's fine. You're probably not the kind of person we want around anyway.