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Hullabaloo


Friday, November 02, 2012

 
One of this year's biggest videogames makes a big move against sexism

by David Atkins

Anyone who has ever played a multiplayer online console game with voice chat (and yes, I realize that the intersection between Hullabaloo readers and those who have done so may be somewhat small) knows what a dystopic environment it can be. Even worse than the various throngs of alien life and supersoliders attempting to kill you at any moment are the screaming hordes of bullies and hormonal teenagers shouting cursewords and derogatory racist, homophobic, and sexist insults at every turn.

While most gamemakers and console manufacturers have rules about this sort of thing, they're rarely enforced. Most have a sort of community policing system, but that works marginally at best. Racism tends to be addressed more than other types of discrimination, but a huge amount of it still gets through. And the sexism is completely uncontrolled. So gamers who want to avoid all that nastiness tend to mute the voice chat. The only problem with that is that in team games, unless you're running with a crew of pre-picked friends, the team that communicates in real time has a huge advantage over the team that doesn't. A player on mute tends to be a weak link. So the choices tend to be: 1) avoid team games; 2) play ineffectively; or 3) put up a neverending stream of derogatory, discriminatory abuse.

Well, Microsoft is stepping in to do something about the rampant sexism on voice chat with a zero tolerance policy in one of its most widely anticipated releases in years, Halo 4. Keep in mind that this policy represents a potentially major loss of revenue for them, so it's a pretty impressive and laudable stand:

It’s been a rough year for women in gaming.

From the backlash against Bioware’s Jennifer Hepler after voicing her thoughts about gameplay and the verbal attacks on a female player by one of her own teammates during a live Cross Assault demo to the raping of Laura Croft so you’ll “want to protect her” and the death threats critic Anita Sarkeesian received for her Kickstarter project analyzing misogyny in gaming, the community has encountered sexism seemingly around every corner.

Yesterday, one major game franchise announced it had finally reached the breaking point.

In an interview with Gamespot, two of the most prominent women in the industry revealed that next week’s long-awaited release of Halo 4 would not be for everyone: sexists will not be welcome on Microsoft’s servers.

"This is behaviour that is offensive and completely unacceptable,” Microsoft’s 343 Industries Executive Bonnie Ross told Gamespot. “I'd like to think most of our Xbox Live players don't support this kind of behaviour."

Ross, along with Halo 4’s executive producer Kiki Wolfkill, told the gaming site that they would be adopting a “zero tolerance” policy for sexism on Halo 4’s servers. “Sexist or discriminatory comments against others” will earn players a lifetime ban from the game.

"It can be dangerous to give adolescents a broadcast mechanism," Wolfkill told Gamespot. The two went on to place the ultimate responsibility for stamping out gaming culture sexism squarely on the shoulders of game developers.

Coming from two prominent executives in an industry that often silences its female developers and denigrates female players, this statement is a crucial one. Halo 4 is one of this year’s most anticipated console games, and Microsoft has funneled more money into its development than any other game in its history.

So far, though discussions of misogyny in games and gaming culture have polarized the online gaming community, it’s been rare for companies themselves to directly address the issue. For the creators of Halo 4 to state that such behavior will have direct consequences—and to do so before the game’s release—sets a hugely important precedent.
Non-gamers will doubtless say "so what?" and "what took them so long?" Fair questions, especially the latter. But for gamers, this represents a large and most welcome step forward. The arc of the universe is long, but it does bend through fits and starts toward justice.

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