So recently Microsoft announced that XBL complaints about behavior – specifically, bullying, bigotry, excessive cursing, and other unsports-person-like conduct – will be addressed, and that reporters will be notified when their complaints have been dealt with. I imagine it will go something like this: “Dear X, We at Microsoft care about your online community play experience. Thank you for reporting INCIDENT. We are currently investigating the source of the problem. Thank you for playing on XBox Live!”
And then radio silence.
I expect that is how this will work not because I disbelieve that there are people at Microsoft who believe in the importance of a safe and tolerant online community. I’m sure there are many. I expect that there will simply be too many complaints, and that many of them will be “retributive” – you beat me, so I’m going to report you. I think that the team that does start working on these issues is going to burn out very quickly. I think they will be horrified by some of the things that get reported, and frustrated at the banality of other things. I think that what we’re more likely to see is people reporting the really bad and the really stupid – the things that someone takes offense at because they are themselves intolerant (someone who doesn’t want to play with a kid, a girl, or an African American; someone who doesn’t want to see an atheist gamertag, or a religious gamertag; someone who doesn’t want to play with someone who speaks a different language than they do…).
This was one of the topics that came up in conjunction with the harassment aimed at Anita Sarkeesian for her Kickstarter (and continues to be aimed at her every time she turns around). And you can bet that if someone on XBL finds out her gamertag, they’ll report her for breathing, too. And that’s where I’m dubious about the good intentions here. A reporting system offers just as many opportunities for abuse as a lack of a reporting system.
But if we get right down to it, there’s also the question of draconian policing that makes me nervous, as well. While I agree that people should be able to feel safe in their gaming community, I also think that some people are overly sensitive about what that means. While I’m sure many of them may be justified in feeling the way they do, there comes a point where their feelings inhibit what most of the community feels is reasonable behavior. (And I’m aware that a community in general can be bigoted, racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., and that doesn’t justify authorizing such behavior. However, there are cases in which a genuine and respectful discussion of a topic that is sensitive for one member could cause that person upset… and without condemning them for it, it would not be fair to curtail a reasonable discussion based on their feelings. I also think that most people recognize such situations and behave appropriately, but the cases that become public are those in which people aren’t behaving rationally.)
Basically, I’m almost more concerned about the abuse of such a system than I am pleased that Microsoft has decided to implement the system. After all, Sarkeesian’s last video was flagged as inappropriate and pulled down off YouTube (and then quickly restored) precisely because of such a system. And I can also imagine a case in which parents who allow their 9-year-old to play Call of Duty then feel as though they have the right to demand that other players not use profanity because of their child – even though the game is rated Mature (17+).
Perhaps Microsoft will be able to implement a more nuanced system than I’m giving them credit for, but what I really want to see is self-polilcing. I want to see more instances in which one player says to another “Cut it out,” and that’s what happens. I want to see more instances in which no one feels like they have to or should say anything because the community has made the decision to act like reasonable people. Call me jaded, but I’m not holding my breath about those, either.