Microsoft’s Xbox chief Phil Spencer has written a paean to video gaming, calling games a unifying force that anyone and everyone can enjoy. He rejoices in gaming’s ability to sustain communities, foster friendships, and even reduce stress and depression. He also describes the shift gaming has made; games aren’t just the domain of teenage boys but have grown far beyond that: most gamers are adults, and nearly half are women.
But against these positive elements, Spencer recognizes the many flaws in the gaming community. Online life as a whole includes a “growing toxic stew of hate speech, bigotry, and misogyny,” he writes, but games can be part of the solution. Spencer says that games have a uniquely equalizing ability to bring people together—we’re all just names on a screen, substantially eroding differences in class, race, gender, and so on—and so present an environment that can help dismantle prejudice.
The purpose of his essay is to call on the gaming industry to work together to make gaming a safe space, one where gaming’s positive features can be celebrated, without being mired in the same toxicity as contaminates the rest of the online world. To that end, he outlines three principles he wants the games industry to follow.
First, he calls on rule enforcement to be “vigilant, proactive, and swift,” using both human resources and technology to ensure that gaming remains fun. This includes identifying features of games and platforms that are prone to abuse and seeking to remedy those problems quickly. He also makes a nod to diversity in these enforcement teams, writing that “wide-ranging perspectives can help us identify future safety problems and solutions.”
Second, he calls for development of features to make it easier for, especially, parents to control the kinds of content that their children are exposed to. Microsoft’s child and teen accounts provide various parental controls, and the company has made it easier to find games suitable “for everyone,” a category that covers not just content but also highlights games with accessibility and safety features. The goal, Spencer writes, is to ensure that to as great an extent as possible, gamers (or their parents) are in control of their experiences.
Finally, he makes explicit that this should be a cross-industry effort, pointing at things like Microsoft’s PhotoDNA technology, which has been used by a range of companies to try to detect child pornography.
He closes with references to new gaming services such as Google Stadia, the advertising giant’s game-streaming service. These will further extend the reach of gaming and bring a range of games to a new audience; this makes the need for safety even more acute.
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