Services crack down on gamers’ slurs, insults

  • Sun May 2nd, 2010 10:15pm
  • Life

By Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press

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.

Players’ roles aren’t discounted

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 website 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.

Policing players

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.

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, said Stephen Toulouse, director of policy and enforcement for Microsoft’s Xbox Live service.

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 permanently.

The company has created a website 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.

Gamers also can mute out any other player they find offensive, or can block an offensive player and not encounter him again, Toulouse said.

Game ‘nannies’

The notion of companies monitoring and cleaning up cyberspace is troubling to some.

Joan Bertin, director of the National Coalition Against Censorship in New York City, said she is uncomfortable with game makers serving as “nannies.”

“They respond occasionally and erratically and incompletely,” she said. “Some people who are doing what everyone else is doing get caught.”

The coalition, which works to protect First Amendment rights, does not generally endorse actions to limit speech, she said.

“The use of taboo language has a lot of different functions, and they not all are evil,” she said. “I don’t think pulling the cover over it and hiding it makes it go away.”