Microsoft has recently announced a new initiative which aims to “continue building a safe and inclusive gaming environment for everyone” by combating the “growing toxic stew of hate speech, bigotry and misogyny.”
On May 20th, Microsoft Executive Vice President of Gaming and Head of Xbox Phil Spencer called for players to join him in an effort to make the gaming community more inclusive and linked to a Microsoft blog post titled Video games: A unifying force for the world:

In the blog post, Spencer states that he believes there are “two fundamental truths about gaming”:

First, gaming is for everyone. No one group “owns” gaming. Instead, whether you’re new to gaming or are a diehard esports fan, you are welcome to play and welcome to all the fun and skill-building that comes with gaming. In this way, when everyone can play, the entire world wins.

If you imagine gamers as predominantly men and specifically teen boys, think again. We are a 2.6 billion-person strong community of parents playing with our kids, adventurers exploring worlds together, teachers making math wondrous, grandmothers learning about their grandchildren through play, and soldiers connecting with their folks back home. Most gamers today are adults; nearly half are women.

Second, gaming must promote and protect the safety of all. Gaming must be a safe environment. Creating community is shared work, and protecting community is essential work, so, we all carry part of the payload of community safety – game industry and gamers alike.

Spencer proceeds to decry the rise of toxicity in gaming whilst conversely praising the health and social benefits of gaming seen among various demographics:

This widespread embrace of gaming and its global communities have turned video games into the world’s leading cultural industry, bigger than movies or music. But it also comes at a time when digital life includes a growing toxic stew of hate speech, bigotry and misogyny.

No different from rock and roll, books and TV before them, video games are often dismissed or maligned as frivolous, fraught with violence or filled exclusively with hate-mongering. But gaming is uniquely designed for equality. We don’t just walk in someone’s shoes – we stand on equal footing, regardless of age, education, socioeconomics, race, religion, politics, gender, orientation, ethnicity, nationality, or ability. Gaming doesn’t just bring stereotype-defying gamers together; it unites us through our universal language of fun and answers our human need to play. Research has shown an effective way to battle polarization and prejudice is through relationships with people outside our own groups, known as intergroup contact theory. This is where gaming excels: forging unexpected friendships with people we might never meet in real life. Dr. Linda Tropp, a professor of psychology at University of Massachusetts Amherst, observes, “As an interactive form of entertainment, gaming environments have the potential to bring people together for collaborations across differences, and to build empathy and mutual understanding through play.”

When people call video games a waste a time, I point them to the well-documented health and social benefits of gaming. Beyond pure exhilaration, gaming helps children with autism make new friends and seniors with Alzheimer’s improve their memory. Researchers have found that gaming teaches adults leadership, improves decision-making and reduces stress and depression and also teaches kids computational skills and empathy. Gaming is the gateway to these 21st century skills and to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Just consider: teen girls who play video games are three times more likely to pursue a STEM degree. Among teenagers who play games online with others daily, 74% have made friends online and 37% have made more than five friends online.

In an effort to support the diversification of the demographics playing video games and protect the highly diverse base of players on the Xbox platform, Spencer then announces that Microsoft will begin to undertake a new set of principles and actions:

We commit to be vigilant, proactive, and swift. Our Xbox Safety team is nicknamed the “Defenders of Joy” because we will defend you in every humanly and technologically possible way, so gaming remains fun. We will identify potentials for abuse and misuse on our platform and will fix problems quickly. We are also intent on expanding the composition of our safety team so wide-ranging perspectives can help us identify future safety problems and solutions. Because hate and harassment have no place in gaming, we recently published a refreshed version of our Xbox Community Standards to communicate how each of us can keep gaming fun and safe for all and detail the consequences when any of us break these standards. A welcoming community is the key to a safe community, so our 150,000 Xbox Ambassadors – community leaders, stewards, and allies – will be engaged to embark on new community missions to help create an inviting and safe environment for all gamers. We will also continue to roll out new programs for the health of our entire gaming community.

We commit to empowering you to safeguard your gaming experience the way you want. We believe in equipping you with the tools to customize your gaming experience fit for your personal comfort level. This summer, we are empowering our official Club community managers with proactive content moderation features that will help create safe spaces for fans to discuss their favorite games. We plan to roll out new content moderation experiences to everyone on Xbox Live by the end of 2019. Creating a Child or Teen Account is the easiest way for parents and guardians to manage who their kids engage with as well as their family’s screen time, content and spending. While more than 26 million Child and Teen accounts have been created to-date, we will make it easier for parents and guardians new to console and PC gaming to discover and create Child or Teen accounts. This year, Microsoft Stores rolled out a series of family workshops to help parents understand the tools available to them on console and PC, and this summer we are launching Gaming Summer Camps offering young gamers new ways to explore life skills and practice healthy habits that can be used in gaming and everyday life. Additionally, we recently launched a new “For Everyone” destination on Xbox.com where parents, guardians and players can learn how we’re making gaming more fun for everyone with our new inclusivity, accessibility, and safety features. We’re innovating now in these and other concrete ways to reduce, filter, and develop a shared understanding of toxic experiences, and to ultimately put our community of gamers, and their parents or guardians, in control of their own experiences.

We commit to working across the gaming industry on safety measures. Because we intend to protect all gamers, we will openly share safety innovations with our industry the same way Microsoft has made PhotoDNA technology universally available to everyone from the police to the tech industry to fight the spread of child pornography. Today, multiple teams working in areas like moderation, user research, data science, and others are already aligning with industry partners to share insights, and best practices in areas of safety, security and privacy.

Though recently announced, players have seen examples of the enforcement of these principals in recent months. As noted in Spencer’s blog post, the Community Standards for Xbox were recently updated, with new guidelines advising players to avoid actions such as “Post[ing] game clips that will offend many others,” “Nam[ing] a club after a highly controversial figure,” or trash talking in an unsanctioned manner (for example, language such as “Hey <profanity>, that was some serious potato aim. Get wrecked, trash.”, is condemned by the Community Standards, whereas the alternative “Only reason you went positive was you spent all game camping. Try again, kid.” is deemed acceptable). Earlier this month,a user was suspended from the Xbox Live service for posting an image of Jesus and changing their gamer tag to ‘xxJesusIsLordxx’, actions which were determined by Microsoft to be in violation of the Community Standards regarding “provocative religious comments.”

What do you make of Spencer’s statement and Microsoft and Xbox’s new stance

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  • About The Author

    Spencer Baculi
    Associate Editor

    Spencer is the Associate Editor for Bounding Into Comics. An unabashed and life-long anime fan, comic book reader, and avid video game player, Spencer believes in supporting every claim with evidence and that Wally West is the best Flash of all time. He can be found on Twitter @kabutoridermav.

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