SPOKANE — It’s not just cyberbullets that are exchanged during firefights on the XBox Live version of “Call of Duty.”
Many gamers also exchange hate speech over their headsets as they stalk each other across the virtual battlefields. Players trade racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic insults so frequently that game makers are taking steps to tone down the rhetoric.
The comments would shock parents who may not realize their children are constantly exposed to language that might make a sailor blush. Most parental concerns have focused on violence, not language.
One gamer told an opponent he presumed to be Jewish that he wished Hitler had succeeded in his mission. Many exchanges involve talk of rape or exult over the atomic bombing of Japan. There are frequent slurs on homosexuals, Asians, Hispanics and women.
Such comments can be heard on all online video gaming systems, including PlayStation Network, Blizzard Entertainment (World of Warcraft) and others.
“Personally, I don’t do a lot of online gaming for that reason,” said Flynn DeMarco, founder of the Web site GayGamer.net, which has worked with Microsoft and other companies on steps to clean up online gaming. “I don’t play with anybody I don’t already know.”
DeMarco said hate speech has been a problem for years. Game makers, despite some serious efforts, can only seek to limit the amount.
“A lot of the problem lies within the players themselves,” DeMarco said.
The widespread use of the slurs is partly fueled by the same anonymity that provides cover for abuse throughout cyberspace. Players can compete with people thousands of miles away, and know them only by the fictional “gamertags” they use to identify themselves.
After years of tolerating abusive players, gamers have become more diligent about noting the gametags of abusive players and reporting them to game companies. Abusive players can be punished or even banned, but the process is slow.
“It’s a baby steps kind of thing,” DeMarco said.
Microsoft, maker of the XBox 360, has taken numerous steps to clean up the language on its Live service, which is by far the biggest online gaming service with some has 23 million members.
Stephen Toulouse, director of policy and enforcement for Microsoft’s Xbox Live service, heads a team charged with providing a safe and enjoyable experience for customers.
“There is always a subset of humanity that goes toward miscreant behavior,” Toulouse said.
With 1 million to 2 million players online at any one time, most of the policing falls to other users who report hate speech to the company, he said.
Those complaints are reviewed, and people who use hate speech can face punishments such as having their voice privileges suspended, making them unable to speak with other players in real time. They can also be banned temporarily or even permanently from the service, Toulouse said. Players whose conduct crosses into criminal behavior are reported to law enforcement, he said.
The company has created a Web site to help parents control their children’s gaming, www.GetGameSmart.com. Parents can learn how to limit the people their children play with, limit the time and type of games they play and find other tools, he said.