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Xbox Live to crack down on sexism

So Halo 4 is being released tomorrow (what, is there something more important going on that I don’t know about?). Thanks to the recent acknowledgement by 343 Industries and Microsoft that half their potential market was being weeded out by the “early adopters” who are defending their territory via terrible sexist remarks, rape threats and abuse, it appears that the folks responsible for the Xbox Live service have had it with that nonsense behaviour and are about to start dropping the banhammer on their users.

Apparently this is a zero tolerance policy too, so if you’re found to be making sexist comments, don’t expect to get away with just a slap on the wrist. Wolfkill and Ross say that developers have a responsibility to break through gender stereotypes and stamp out sexism in the games industry too. It’s sad that it has to come to Xbox Live bans just to get people to act civil toward one another, but that’s unfortunately what you get when everyone is hidden behind a veil of anonymity.

Of course, there’s one easy way to avoid the banhammer altogether: just don’t be a jerk. It’s fine to get angry when you’re losing a match or can’t seem to get a decent shot in, but there are plenty of other ways to express that anger without resorting to bigoted or sexist remarks.

This is just another instance of men taking a new niche, becoming “default person” there, and doing everything they can to keep women from joining thereafter by demeaning them for being in the minority. It’s not like there’s anything especially gendered about online video gaming, except for the fact that it’s an extension of the already-male-dominated tech world in a society that already prioritizes men’s (totes important and super serious) social interactions over women’s (which are of course invariably fluffy and irrelevant). This is how patriarchy seeps into every aspect of society, and how a culture of casual misogyny in one area can creep into and entrench that misogyny in others.

I am, of course, curious about the specifics though. Since this is a zero-tolerance ban and requires being “found to be making sexist comments”, one would assume they’d have to record the voice chat sessions. They probably already record a percentage of them for quality assurance, though I’d have to look at the end user agreement to see if it’s more thorough a recording system than that by design.

Either way, I’m not sure a permaban is the best solution, and not because “zomg ur limiting free speech!” or some other such self-centered nonsense. That just encourages users to morph and use anonymizers and break into the Xbox Live servers using middlemen and proxies and reverse-engineering the client, maybe even cracking into the system without paying. A better solution to provide repercussions for misbehaviour would be some combination of the following, in my estimation:

– Defaulting these users to Muted, perhaps so that they can only be unmuted if all users agree in a given game session
– Provide in-game options for reporting sexist/racist/assholish behaviour when you mute someone — and remembering the muted status (and optional reason) forever, so you’ll never forget who threatened to rape you because you beat them
– Flagging all accounts for review when they receive a set number of mutings/reports per time interval
– Giving them custom titles so other users are forewarned of their assholery
– Providing tiered temporary bans for repeat offenders, with permabans reserved for the most egregious
– Making admin-moderated users only able to play with one another
– Giving them major disadvantages in-game — like, other players can see and shoot them through walls for instance — until their “time-out” period is over. (The idea here is to make the game as un-fun for them as they make it for others.)

I’m sure there’s other, better ways to grief the griefers and troll the trolls. Permabans don’t actually teach them anything, except how to get around permabans and how to continue pushing people’s buttons for their own lulz. And any attempt to fix the loopholes will tighten the noose to the point where someone who has committed one indiscretion and is sorry, has no way of earning a second chance legitimately.

Hat tip to Aliasalpha for passing the story along.

Comments

  1. Aliasalpha says

    One other interesting idea could be to delete their gamerscore for the game in question. They go on *phobic slur sprees in Halo 4, they lose every point they’ve accumulated in the game and can’t get it back.

    Doesn’t sound like much but gamerscore is often remarkably valued to the kind of tools who act like this, delete their score & stop them getting it again and chances are they’ll actually get pissed off rather than just laugh at it.

  2. says

    Either way, I’m not sure a permaban is the best solution, and not because “zomg ur limiting free speech!” or some other such self-centered nonsense. That just encourages users to morph and use anonymizers and break into the Xbox Live servers using middlemen and proxies and reverse-engineering the client, maybe even cracking into the system without paying. A better solution to provide repercussions for misbehaviour would be some combination of the following, in my estimation:

    Most people aren’t anywhere near competent enough to do this to Microsoft. That said, I’m sure some sexist/FREE SPEECH pirates would make it easy enough to do, so they may not need to be.

    Good on microsoft though. If there was something that’d get me to look seriously at the X-Box, it’s this. Dudes being asshats on game chat is waaaaaaayyyy too damn common.

  3. lpetrich says

    JT’s idea of “Giving them major disadvantages in-game — like, other players can see and shoot them through walls for instance — until their “time-out” period is over.” is a good idea, though making them shootable through walls may be rather difficult to code.

    Other possibilities would be to make their weapons wimpy or to make them more vulnerable to opponents’ weapons or to make them travel more slowly.

  4. says

    Really, Jason, you’re disappointing me.
    You cannot propose other, less drastic meassures than permaban or have a discussion about adequate consequences for sexist behaviour or best strategies.
    That would be like different people having different opinions and that cannot be permitted by the Femistasi of the FTBullies.

    Uhm, don’t have much to say on gaming.
    Good to say that theyR’e making the effort.

  5. Csshdoller says

    You can have their character turned into a female character and the female character turned into a male character. Then both can feel and see what it’s like to be like the other sex.

    Then when each of them sees how much it sucks to be the reverse gender, they are transformed back. This would make all problems seemingly vanish overnight.

    The weird thing though is that even though this whining and bitching gender war nonsense would cease to exist, none of the behaviors (aside from real extremists psychopaths) would change at all. There will still be women doing the things they do and men dosing the things they do only with a newfound appreciation for where the other gender is coming from and why.

    This will work I promise.

  6. B-Lar says

    Very cool, and some good ideas. Lets hope that they stick to their guns and reply to the free speeh brigade with a hearty “Fuck you. We dont like the way you make our carpet smell like piss”.

  7. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    They will have their nym changed to crissy95 and their voice will be run through a DSP that will make them permanently sound like a 16 year old girl. After a day, sexist catharsis will be complete.

  8. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    @12 Of course I’m being half facetious. Transforming someones voice to sound african american or such will seriously backfire in the racist stereotyping department.

  9. says

    You can have their character turned into a female character and the female character turned into a male character. Then both can feel and see what it’s like to be like the other sex.

    Not really. In-game characters don’t give you any insight into the lives of the other. As an old RPG player I can tell you that men playing female characters often love to do the sexist bullshit because it asserts their dominance to define women again and they can laugh off any discrimination thrown at them ’cause, duh, when the game is over they can just walk home…

  10. says

    Further to Giliell, some (many, maybe most) games don’t offer female avatars at all. And using a DSP filter to filter the voice to a girl’s depends pretty heavily on there continuing to be asshats willing to punish gamers for being girls. Don’t make the punishment for jackassery dependent on there being other jackasses.

  11. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    Jason,

    I agree that the “give them a taste of their own medicine” approach could lead one to an ethical dilemma since it relies on the very grievance it sets out to remedy to function (apart from probably not being really feasible technically). But it could work as a pragmatic approach in the initial stages of the effort.

  12. jose says

    Whoa I heard about specific policies like the auto mute feature at extra credits. They said they were going to engage Microsoft and work to do a real effort to combat this, awesome it really happened.

  13. eric says

    Not a Halo player (gasp!) but I’m looking forward to seeing what they try. My guess is the first set of social controls will not be particularly great, but that they’ll improve over time. If they hit on some really effective system, it could propagate to other games and platforms.

    My suggestion to players would be to help move this evolutionary porcess along. I.e., provide useful and constructive advice back to Microsoft on how to improve the controls they do implement. Don’t just complain about less-than-perfect solutions, nobody likes that – and the first set of controls WILL be imperfect. Treat it as a social experiment; figure out what works and what doesn’t so that later updates will (continue to) improve the gaming experience.

  14. spiffo says

    “Either way, I’m not sure a permaban is the best solution, and not because “zomg ur limiting free speech!” or some other such self-centered nonsense. That just encourages users to morph and use anonymizers and break into the Xbox Live servers using middlemen and proxies and reverse-engineering the client, maybe even cracking into the system without paying.”

    If I recall, Xbox Live bans your console from accessing it. There’s no easy way around this short of buying a new console.

    Even if it only bans your account, people have to pay for their accounts, and there is a lot attached to your given account (including achievements, saves, and other shit people don’t want to just give up).

    I think a permaban is exactly what people need – no playing games with people who are vile, just a straight “Get Out”.

  15. Shiroferetto says

    Permaban is an excellent solution. @20 stated the reasons why very well. As a “girl gamer,” I’ve had to deal with my share of sexism, though on MMORPGs and not shooters.

    I’m guessing the sexism is off the charts on shooters.

    One gaming session on Everquest2 a long while back has stuck with me. ANOTHER WOMAN kept asking me if I was a woman or a boy (because of my speech patterns–New Yorker–and indeterminate pitch). I kept saying, “Why does it matter what I am?”

    The upshot was that I was behaving too “male” for their tastes (not sexist, mind you, just gender-non-conformist) and that my behavior would have been acceptable in a male player but not a female one.

    Sexism is often displayed by women and laughed off because the person committing the atrocity happens to have a vagina. I recently–and politely–laced into some members of my local kickball league for calling other players “vaginas” and saying that “someone must have lit your tampon on fire” to male players. In both cases, the perps were female.

    One player apologized. The second one threw a tizzy that basically said that because she had a vagina, it gave her the right to go around being sexist–and in fact, she argued that she couldn’t possibly BE sexist since she was a she.

    Players need to demand behavioral changes of their fellow players as well as reporting incidences to the authorities in charge of whatever game it is.

  16. Arnaud says

    “So Halo 4 is being released tomorrow (what, is there something more important going on that I don’t know about?)”

    Dude! AC III?

  17. 742 says

    custom title: sexually frustrated teenager
    petulant child
    will never know the touch of a woman (never had excessive shit talk from women in games. its(in my experience) always men, and theyre always homophobic dickwhistles as well)

  18. jkthurman says

    I am so excited someone is trying to do something about this. At the same time, I agree that a permaban, and a permaban being the only option, is not the best solution. For the same reasons that having only one option as punishment for other kinds of harassment is bad.

    @9, 11, and 16

    NO.

    How about we NOT make their punishment “being a girl”? (or being black, etc.) It would be really nice for once, to NOT frame being like me as a bad thing to be, THX.

    Other ideas that are bad: making them wear pink! calling them a sissy, etc.

    srsly ppl, wtf?

  19. ariana says

    I don’t think making offending players only allowed to play with other offending players is a good idea. It’s too easy for them to reinforce each other’s ideas that using this sort of language is no big deal and that they have done nothing wrong. It takes away the peer pressure to not be an asshole.

  20. Brian Pendelll says

    How about a baleful polymorph in a Warcraft style game? Act like a pig, your game character can spend time as a pig, possibly with the caption ASSHAT floating over it.

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