Bonnie Ross, head of 343 Industries, and Kiki Wolfkill, executive producer of Halo 4, recently announced that Xbox Live players who make sexist or discriminatory comments can be penalized with a lifetime ban from Halo 4. Read more about it here at GamesSpot. This decision has provoked a multitude of responses a few of which I have read quite enthusiastically. I would like to focus on a few here, because there have been quite a range of thoughtful (and some not so thoughtful) responses to this policy.
First, this Reddit post, written by lurker_lenore was written by a rather disgruntled gamer who argues with the necessity for a policy like this. The essay is unsubstantiated, or as the author wrote:
Disclaimer: I don’t have sources for a lot of this. It’s inference based on personal experience, so I welcome anyone who does have a source or correct information.
At least it’s honest, and the author did ask for evidence from readers to strengthen the argument. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that anyone was able to fulfill the request. lurker_lenore’s main argument was that sexual discrimination in the Xbox Live community is not an issue. In fact, the type of harassment in said community goes well beyond sexual discrimination and is an important part of the experience. By banning sexual harassment, the community is doing a disservice to women who need to develop a thicker skin. The author goes on to argue that sexual harassment in gaming was in fact fabricated by the group Fat, Ugly or Slutty, who fail to recognize that all Xbox Live members experience vile treatment, but women simply “handle it differently.”
In any social environment, individuals will attempt to gain social leverage with their peers, usually in the form of acceptance and approval. In general, women tend to gain this leverage against men by asserting their sexuality; while men gain it between one another via their accomplishments; finally, men seek it from women through emotional empathy.
lurker_lenore’s final arguments against this type of lifetime ban state that it will create a divisive community, including an atmosphere where it is far more acceptable to harass men, where women are marginalized by gamers for being women (because clearly they are not already) AND for thinking that they are better then men and deserve better treatment, and finally, where all the men-hating women will begin to hate Microsoft for:
implicitly stating that women are not as resilient as men, or capable of dealing with insults and trash-talk without kindergarten-esque rules of engagement.
Iron-clad. Surprisingly, not all the comments agree with the author; a few even invite him to play with or as a female avatar so that he might witness the reality of the situation first hand. However, the majority of the comments came from people who agreed. These posts argued that because it is okay to sling homophobic insults at men, sexualized comments directed toward women are fair game, or that the whole reason for the new policy is because the head of 343 is a Feminist, or that women are being infantilized by this policy, or, my personal favorite that game companies should continue to appeal to their main demographic of white males so that they can sell games.
A few comments brought up questions of enforcing this ban, which is actually a good point. This problem was brought up in a few blogs as well, including one by Mary Sue contributer Becky Chambers. In her piece she applauds the policy, pointing out that Halo 4 and Microsoft are giants in their field, and this could set a precedent for harassment policies all over the industry. Chambers also questions the implementation of the policy, stating that players might benefit from warnings or reports so that they might learn which behavior is acceptable. This leads me to another blog post I found on Gamasutra by Jon W. who challenges the policy because, as he puts it, the game has trained boys to be sexist by supplying them with a game franchise full of “guns and titties.”
In light of these two posts, it will be interesting to see how this permaban will be enforced and whether there is a feedback system that re-educates players in a code of conduct. Finally, however, it should be restated (as it has by many bloggers and journalists including Chambers’ Mary Sue piece) that although Wolfkill and Ross chose to highlight harassment against women in their interview, the Halo 4 policy includes a ban for the myriad of discriminatory comments. It seems that because the two chose to discuss gender in their interview (possibly because they are women), all the male gamers (and I say this because I have not yet read a post by a person who identifies as a women and disagrees with the sentiment of the policy) claiming that women need to ‘ball up or get out’ should be gently reminded that this is a policy meant to make the gaming community a safer place for everyone.