Halo 4 and The Permaban

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.



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